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Great escapes for the curious traveller: from research trips to science centres to ecology camps, we dug up 5o great places to bend your mind.

STANDING AMONG the supernatural coulees and hoodoos in Alberta's Dinosaur Provincial Park, it's not easy to imagine the lush coastal plain beside a huge inland sea that was here 75 million years ago. With a paleontology technician's supervision, we're helping to gather proof. We carefully chip and brush away the brittle sandstone to reveal treasure: an arched fragment that turns out to be a prehistoric rhinoceros' eye socket. This is Bonebed 30 (dinosaurpark.ca), a guided excavation program that taps participants into another time, place and profession.

Not all vacation fantasies are created equal. Some of us prefer to look for biological specimens instead of a great place to soak up some rays. If you would rather learn than burn on your vacation, we dug up 50 great escapes for you.

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Icefield Ranges Expeditions, St. Elias Mountains, YT

A remote camp overlooking Mt. Logan serves as home base for glacier exploration, and offers programming about ice's importance to global hydrology, geography and climate. icefields.org

Cetacea Lab at Whale Point, Gil Island, BC

This research station welcomes volunteers to help track local whale populations. Applicants must be avid outdoor enthusiasts, dedicated to research tasks and passionate about whales. forwhales.org

Northern Lights Centre, Watson Lake, YT

Using interactive displays, panoramic video and surround sound systems, this facility features immersive programming about astronomy and the science and folklore of the Aurora borealis. northernlightscentre.ca

Coastal Revelations Nature and Heritage Tours, Vancouver Island, BC

This outfitter employs professional biologists to guide vacationers on rainforest hikes, wildlife viewing missions, snowshoeing treks, Nordic skiing and bird watching tours. coastalrevelations.com

Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation, Tumbler Ridge, BC

Regional paleontology is explored through exhibits, children's programming (including fossil excavation and replication activities) and hiking tours, which also follow the area's wolverine tracks. trmf.ca

Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Centre, Osoyoos, BC

This award-winning facility (featuring a green roof and salvaged wood) boasts cultural exhibits, aboriginal crafts and easy access to guided desert walks and mountain-face rappelling. nkmipdesert.com

B. Dene Adventures, Yellowknife, NT

Owned and operated by Dene people, this culture camp educates visitors about local ecology, and also explores the language and history of the Dene. bdene.com

Telus Spark, Calgary, AB

Travelling exhibits are supported by five permanent galleries, two theatres and an outdoor park. A monthly adults-only night also features music, special programs and bar service. sparkscience.ca

Royal Tyrrell Museum, Drumheller, AB

In addition to indoor dinosaur exhibits and guided landscape tours, wannabe paleontologists can participate in specimen prospecting and excavation, plus learn to cast a fossil. tyrrellmuseum.com

Canoe Arctic Inc., Fort Smith, NT

Wildlife biologist Alex Hall leads river expeditions through the tundra, introducing paddlers to wilderness camping, unparalleled fishing and northern wildlife, like white wolves and caribou. canoeardic.com

Elu Inlet Lodge, Elu Inlet, NU

First nation locals lead hiking, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, wildlife viewing and archeological observation activities, and the lodge features an outdoor hot tub and private cabins. elulodge.com

Quill Lakes International Bird Area, Wadena, Wynyard and Foam Lake, SK

More than one million birds touch down in the area annually, and two fully developed viewing areas are supported by lakeside nature and interpretive centres. quill-lakes-bird-area.com

Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretive Centre, Stonewall MB

Set in a 36-sq-km wildlife management area, the centre offers tours and other educational programs that explore an expansive trail network and great birding opportunities. oakhammockmarsh.ca

The Manitoba Museum, Winnipeg, MB

Natural history collections and research are woven into various exhibit spaces, including an interactive science gallery and a domed planetarium featuring more than 200 projectors. manitobamuseum.ca

Churchill Northern Studies Centre, Churchill MB

Learning vacations at this active research facility are led by scientists and expert guides, focusing on polar bears, beluga whales, wildflowers, subarctic ecology and astronomy. churchillscience.ca

Arctic Kingdom Polar Expeditions Inc., Mississauga, ON

This operator has led Arctic safaris for more than a decade, eschewing cruise ships and upscale hotels for close encounters with Inuit communities and wildlife. arctickingdom.com

Volunteer Abroad, Kingston, ON

An organization that connects groups, students and adults with a range of international voluntourism experiences, from teaching opportunities and disaster relief to research and conservation. volunteerabroad.ca

Students on Ice, Gatineau, QC

Aims to help students and educators foster a new respect for the planet via Antarctic and Arctic expeditions that feature lectures, workshops and hands-on activities. studentsonice.com

Ecomuseum Zoo, Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, QC

A unique stewardship and wildlife education centre, with more than 115 species of mammal, bird, reptile and fish, all of them native to the St. Lawrence Valley. ecomuseum.ca

Armand-Frappier Museum, Laval, QC

Biotechnology and microbiology are explored by interactive exhibits about human, animal and environmental health, science camps and a week-long lab tech apprenticeship for secondary school students. musee-afrappier.qc.ca/en

Espace pour la vie, Montreal QC

A new planetarium will open in 2013, adding to this longstanding educational destination's Biodome (featuring entirely recreated ecosystems), insectarium and botanical gardens. espacepourlavie.ca

ASTROLab, Notre-Dame-des-Bois, QC

Exhibit and observatory tours, evening presentations, telescope observation and other activities are used to educate visitors about the history of the universe, biosphere and life. astrolab-parc-national-mont-megantic.org/en

Jardin des Glaciers, Baie-Comeau, QC

A glacier exploration station offers multimedia presentations about glaciers and climate change, plus interpretive outdoor tours of a maritime landscape shaped by ancient ice. jardindesglaciers.ca

Atlantic Salmon Mysteries, Belledune, NB

Participants help with salmon conservation efforts by measuring specimens and recording data, transporting fish up the river and repairing barriers. belledune.com/salmon.php

New Brunswick Aquarium and Marine Centre, Shippagan, NB

Showcasing the aquatic cornucopia with 31 indoor exhibit tanks, an outdoor harbour seal pool, a tidal flow simulator and a touch tank featuring rare blue lobsters. aquariumnb.ca

Fundy Geological Museum, Parrsboro, NS

Educational exhibits feature dinosaur bones, fossils and minerals, plus there are seasonal guided walking tours of the cliffs and beaches surrounding the Bay of Fundy. museum.gov.ns.ca/fgm

North Cape Wind Energy Interpretive Centre, Tignish, PEI

Interactive visual displays teach visitors about turbine technology and wind energy's significance, complemented by content about the North Cape's natural and cultural history northcape.ca

Museum of Natural History, Halifax, NS

Permanent and travelling exhibits delve into archeology, geology, mammal and aquatic life. The museum is also home to Gus, a locally beloved 90-year-old gopher tortoise. museum.gov.ns.ca/mnhnew

Fortune Head Interpretation Center & Ecological Reserve, Fortune, NL

Learn the geological importance of this remote coastal area, where high concentrations of trace fossils record the Cambrian explosion some 542 million years ago. townoffortune.ca/fher/forhead.html

Johnson Geo Centre, St. John's, NL

Built in a natural rock basin and heated by six geothermal wells, this impressive, mostly underground facility profiles volcanoes, earthquakes, minerals and other natural forces. geocentre.ca

International Options

'Imiloa Astronomy Center, Hilo, Hawaii

This facility highlights the intersection of astronomy with both ancient and contemporary Hawaiian culture through permanent exhibits, a digital planetarium and a native garden. imiloahawaii.org

Oceanic Society Expeditions, Ross, California

Aiming to protect endangered wildlife and preserve threatened marine habitats, this organization's educational trips can include assisting with research, scuba diving, snorkeling and whale watching. oceanicsociety.org

Eco Tours International, Portland, Oregon

Participate in knowledge-sharing adventures such as exploring Botswana's Okavango Delta with a lion researcher, or learning to live and track with the Kalahari Bushmen of South Africa. ecotoursinternational.com

Enkosini Eco Experience, Seattle, Washington

This wildlife conservation program places volunteers in various Africa-based projects, including anti-poaching campaigns, wildlife research, reserve management, and animal rehabilitation and re-introduction efforts. enkosiniecoexperience.com

Reef Check EcoExpeditions, Pacific Palisades, California

For scuba-certified participants only, this company leads trips to exotic maritime countries like Malaysia, Honduras and the Phillippines to assist research efforts that protect coral reefs and marine megafauna. reef check.org

Zero G, Arlington, Virginia

Flight missions use parabolic arcs to facilitate the weightless experience of space travel, supplemented by student research opportunities and workshops about space history, physics and science. gozerog.com

Earthwatch Institute, Boston, Massachusetts

Join scientists in the field as research assistants on international projects that aim to protect threatened species and analyze the impacts of climate change. earthwatch.org

EI Refugio de Potosi, Guerrero, Mexico

This seven-hectare ecological park on the Pacific coast promotes conservation by rehabilitating native species, and features botanical displays, macaw roosts and a butterfly house. elrefugiodepotosi.org

Foto Verde Tours, Costa Rica

A team of nature photographers (led by an ecologist) offer technical and creative workshops in Costa Rica's richly diverse rainforests. fotoverdetours.com

Save the Turtles of Parismina, Parismina, Costa Rica

Volunteers help this community organization to protect sea turtles and their eggs from poaching by engaging in nightly patrols, egg relocation and hatchery monitoring. parisminaturtles.org

Cabanas Alinahui Butterfly Lodge, Quito, Ecuador

Native trail guides and workshops by photographer and scientist Edward S. Ross explain the stunning birds and butterflies that visit this rainforest lodge's rare gardens. butterflylodge.org

Nuevo Mundo Expeditions, Quito, Ecuador

This company offers a range of luxury adventures, including riverboat cruises, Amazon canoeing, indigenous cultural immersions and hikes that explore medicinal plants with multilingual guides. nuevomundoexpeditions.com

Rainforest Expeditions, Puerto Maldonado, Peru

Three award-winning Amazon eco-lodges serve as home base for an array of rainforest activities, including cultural and academic tours, voluntourism, bird watching and kayaking. perunature.com

Explorer's Inn, Tambopata Notional Reserve, Peru

Located at the intersection of lowland tropical rainforest, cloud forest, humid tropical savannah and palm swamps, this inn promotes conservation via ecotourism and volunteer research opportunities. explorersinn.com

Global Vision International, Exeter, United Kingdom

Provides voluntourism opportunities (both short-and long-term) in more than 25 countries, primarily filling roles in environmental research, conservation, education and community development. gvi.co.uk/about-us

BTCV Conservation Holidays, Doncaster, United Kingdom

Sets up week-long volunteer placements, primarily in European countries, in habitat management, trail building, crop harvesting and other conservation-related activities. shop.btcv.org.uk/shop/index

Komsberg Wilderness Nature Reserve, South Africa

Research meerkats and other mammals, plus birds, reptiles and plants, as well as help with practical jobs around the reserve, as part of a 10-day working holiday. visitkomsberg.org

Eco-Specialists Tours Uganda Limited, Mabira Forest Uganda

Participate in customized educational or recreational safaris that focus on bird watching, botany, zoology or biology, for either budget-conscious or luxury-seeking research assistants. ecotoursuganda.com

Ontdek Kenya Safaris, Nyeri, Kenya

This operator allows visitors to explore almost any facet of the great Kenyan outdoors, from agriculture and wildlife tours to mountain treks and photography safaris. ontdek-kenya-safaris.com

Heron Island Resort, Heron Island, Australia

This secluded, guests-only island offers wildlife research presentations, guided telescope tours, and diving, snorkeling or walking tours that explore coral reef ecology. heronisland.com

Did we miss something great? Send us a letter: editor@alternativesjournal.ca.

Compiled by Chelsea Gutzman and Emily Slofstra.
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Author:Gutzman, Chelsea; Slofstra, Emily
Publication:Alternatives Journal
Article Type:Buyers guide
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jul 1, 2012
Words:1791
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