EDMONTON - Walking along a trail through towering trees, you turn a corner and there he is — a massive, roaring T-rex, its body blocking the sun, sporting those comically puny arms and flashing rows of rip-sawing, flesh-ripping teeth.
"He's quite animated and it's a very spectacular thing to see," said Greg Suess, general manager of the Jurassic Forest.
Tyrannosaurus rex will be the signature experience at this new interactive dinosaur park that has its grand opening July 30 by the Goose Hummock Golf Resort, roughly a 30-minute drive north of Edmonton.
The Cretaceous carnivore is one of 40 life-sized, rubber-skinned, pre-historic robotic beasts that have been built and lowered in by helicopter amidst the trees, marshland and bushes of this 16-hectare park.
Visitors can take guided tours or walk by themselves through two kilometres of trails in two loops.
Visitors can see a stegosaurus, a triceratops and a hadrosaurus. There are two ankylosauruses, low-rising beasts with armoured backs and club tails, battling it out.
In another exhibit, two Utahraptors attack a larger prey.
They move limbs, roar, blink their eyes. They are hooked up to sensors, and will react differently depending on the angle of approach by a visitor.
"Depending where you're standing, you can see different motions in different ways. It will not be the same reaction every time," said Suess.
He said the robots are designed to impress, but not to frighten little kids into crying jags.
"I don't sense that will be an issue, but if it is we will take measures to correct it. That's not the experience we want to create. We're not here to scare the heck out of a child. We want to educate and entertain."
The Jurassic Forest will also have an interpretive centre, a playground, and a bone bed for visitors to dig up faux fossils. On the trails, guides and more than 200 signs explain the dinos, the local flora and fauna, and various theories on what wiped out the big beasts so many millions of years ago.
"We're not an amusement park. We're not trying to be a theme park. We want to combine a quality education experience with a very high-quality entertainment experience," said Suess.
The park was the brainchild of local investors who wanted to give people a chance to learn about the beasts, he said. Tickets are $13 for adults and go down from there on a sliding scale for kids.
It's a natural fit for Alberta, which is home to the world-famous dinosaur Badlands bone beds around Drumheller in the south.
Visitors who want the full Jurassic experience this summer can also take in the Dinosaurs Alive exhibit at the Calgary Zoo. The touring show of 20 giant animatronic dinosaurs, including T-rex and a pterodactyl, is open daily until Halloween.
In the Badlands, the centrepiece Royal Tyrrell Museum is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a new exhibit this summer.
The show, titled "Alberta Unearthed," began in May and runs through September 2011. It reviews the stories and spotlights 25 showpiece fossils that have come to define the museum, including a T-rex "Black Beauty" and a flying turtle from China.
If You Go ...
The Jurassic Forest: Located north of Edmonton, off Highway 28A and Township Road 564.Visitors are advised to bring a hat, sunglasses and good walking shoes.www.jurassicforest.com
Other dinosaur attractions in the area:
— The Calgary Zoo's "Dinosaurs Alive," open daily till Halloween.www.calgaryzoo.org
— The Royal Tyrrell Museum, located in Midland Provincial Park, Drumheller, Alta., is offering "Alberta Unearthed" through September 2011,www.tyrrellmuseum.com
For more information on other attractions in Alberta:www.travelalberta.com