Being a fossil hound, when I first heard about the Three Rivers Rock and Fossil Museum I was keen to check it out. Not everyone is so enamoured with petrified fossils and minerals but those who are will find Larry and Charlotte Dwyer’s amazing collection well worth the visit. I think it is safe to say that theirs is undeniably an internationally respected collection. There are over 3,500 specimens and their knowledge of this collection is world class. Both worked for many years collecting specimens from all over the world and then prepared, categorized, labeled and housed them is a marvellous series of display cabinets.
To get to this out of the way treasure one can reach the site by going into Cowley and then north down over the Oldman River and east on Highway 510 or take the Highway 3 turn off onto Highway 785 east of Pincher, over the dam to 510 and then double back to the west (about a 17km trip). Either way the location is well signed and leads one to a large parking area on the south side of their fossil haven. A walk through their heavily treed front yard is a wonder in of itself with all kinds of tantalizing mineral specimens and oddities lying about with garden gnomes standing guard at every turn. A wide boardwalk leads north to the museum entrance outside of which are stepped shelves loaded with dozens of specimens of thunder eggs for sale. Thunder eggs are like geodes. They look like rough baseball sized boulders but when you cut them in half you find spectacular centers of chalcedony in the form of agate or jasper or even opal. I dare you to walk by these shelves and not pick out a reasonably priced piece of this magic.
Once inside one is surprised by the size and quality of the well lit displays and immediately drawn to the dazzling specimens in the cabinets. There are whole cabinets full of cephalopods, ammonites, fossilized creatures (even a petrified turtle!), exotic minerals, petrified wood, giant trilobites and baculites. Baculites? That exactly what I said too. I learned from Larry that baculites are also called “walking stick rock” and are nearly straight cephalopods from the Late Cretaceous period. These uncurled ammonites had tentacles that grew out of their heads, kinda like Medusa. The geode cabinet has an unbelievably dazzling display of hidden colorful crystal interiors exposed by cutting these rather innocuous looking rocks in half. Some of the finest you will ever see.
And oh the fossilized animals. Barnacles, corral, crabs, turtles, dragon flies, star fish, clams (belemnites from the Gap area) and many other sea creatures. There are dinosaur eggs and dinosaur coprolites (fossil excreta) and dozens of fossilized bones. The kids will probably wrinkle up their noses when they see these unusual coprolite droppings! I know I did. Eeew! Be prepared to be amazed also by a remarkable whole petrified nest with petrified eggs in it!
There is also a collection of mineral specimens from around the world that are an education in themselves. Snowflake obsidian, chert nodules, banded onyx, agate spheres, green malachite from Africa that looks for all the world like a human brain, bladed selenite from the Window Mountain area, rich looking pyrite crystals from Butte Montana and a chunk of Yukon rock chock full of red garnet crystals.
Not surprisingly there is also a wonderful collection of gemstone carvings that includes 19th century Chinese soapstone and an elephant carved entirely out of amber. Every cabinet is a world in itself, a window into early life forms or minerals. There are Indian artifacts such as arrow heads, spear points, scrapers and knives. There are mammoth and mastodon teeth as big as your fist. For a war history fanatic like me the most unique piece I came across was a massive piece of shiny black glass that was labelled “Result of bomb explosion- Ft. Macleod, AB.”. The story apparently is that the British Commonwealth Air Training program trained bomber pilots five miles east of Ft. Macleod (Pearce Airfield) during the Second World War. At the very end of the training the pilots were allowed to drop one large real bomb for practice. Seems that when bombs that size interact with sand the heat and violence of the explosion can create an unusual glass blob.
So between May long weekend and Labour Day make sure you check out the Three Rivers Rock and Fossil Museum. You won’t regret it.