Three Rivers Rock & Fossil Museum

Back From the Badlands

While staying at a gorgeous cabin with an amazing view near Pincher Creek, Alberta, this Ontario-born blogger got to see a local treat. Spying an ad in a five year old tourist-attraction booklet, we called ahead to see if the Three Rivers Rock & Fossil Museum was still open for business. It boasted Canada's largest collection of cephalopods. I just had to go.

On the way there, we speculated what it would be like. It sounded like a small collection, and I wondered if it would be in someone's living room. I was wrong. At the time we arrived we were the only visitors. And we stumbled into an insidious Garden Gnome Invasion. They were everywhere! My heart raced at the thought of seeing fossilized remains of early gnominids. Painting ideas were coming to mind.

The gentlemen and collector greeted us out in the winding, tree-lined front yard, obviously in league with the garden gnomes all around. Being from Toronto, it's easy to forget how large these rural Alberta properties are. We did not head for his living room; we headed to a building behind the house. The gnomes followed, I'm sure of it. Waiting to pounce.

The treaty the owner had with the gnomes was still holding. They did not enter.

Once inside, it was clear the declaration of "largest cephalopod collection in Canada" was no idle boast. There were tons of them! Check out the ammolite specimen above. Ammolite is the semi-precious "stone" interior of ancient ammonites, like mother-of-pearl, but sometimes with startling red tones shot throughout. The owner gave us a bit of information, then sat down at a desk and let us look. Each glass case held a myriad of early life forms or minerals, all hand labelled with a description and location.

At left is a pretty geode, larger than your fist. Looks like marshmallow, doesn't it?

Mmmmm....tasty geode....

I love minerals like this. The little 'hairs' on the puffball-looking formation are so tiny, it challenges the eye to pick them out.

There were shark's teeth, plant fossils, fish fossils, and enough coprolite to keep my five year old nephew entertained (at least after we told him it's dinosaur poop).

The collection is well worth the drive out of the way for any fossil enthusiast or person looking for a spot to take the family. It is a private collection however, and I would strongly recommend asking permission before taking photos, as I have done. It's polite. Rural Alberta has a bit of a reputation for being conservative, at least with Ontarians, and it was nice to see an entire museum devoted to fossils instead of fundamentalism.

Of course there are abundant trilobite fossils, even if they were outnumbered by the ancient predatory cephalopods. Here is Mr. Jumbo, a whopper of a fossil about 60 cm long. This beautiful trilobite is easily more than a match for the gnomes outside, and no wonder they did not enter the building. Is that some sort of iron-rich mineral giving it a rusty appearance? I wonder. A little sea scorpion and ammonite sit submissively beneath the pygidium of this prehistoric royalty.

There are a few tiny fossils and mineral jewellry for purchase, nothing as grand as what's in the collection. I bought a nice little brachiopod, and left the Three Rivers Rock & Fossil Museum with my appetite for prehistoric wonder whetted for more.

We left the militant gnomes behind.