what’s so bad about the badlands?

It’s so hard to leave!! :’(

The bad­lands has become one of my favourite places on earth (grant­ed that I haven’t been to many places on earth, but still). Drumheller, par­tic­u­lar­ly, has the friend­liest peo­ple (and crea­tures, as you’ll see) and the most beau­ti­ful landscapes.

But let’s back­track a bit, because I don’t want to leave out Cal­gary! We were only going to pick up a rental car, but thought since we’re half way across the coun­try, we should at least walk around a bit. We saw a few of the many pieces of won­der­ful pub­lic art instal­la­tions in the city, and real­ly appre­ci­at­ed the free stretch of CTrain that brought us from one end of down­town to the oth­er. Imag­ine if we have this in Toron­to! It would be one less bar­ri­er for peo­ple to get to help­ful resources and appointments.

When we approached Drumheller on the high­way (it was maybe a few kilo­me­ters away), it looked like this, which pret­ty much looked the same the whole way we drove through the Prairies from Calgary. 

We left Cal­gary a bit lat­er than planned, so it was just about din­ner time, and I was look­ing for­ward to set­tling in with some fries and burg­er. Or maybe pas­ta. Or even just soup.

“It says it has 8000 peo­ple,” I said to Mike.

“Yes,” said Mike, eyes on the road.

“It says it has an A&W,” I looked at him, start­ing to pan­ic. “Where ARE all the peo­ple?” and the food? Are we lost?! 

“The sign says Drumheller,” said Mike.

 And then there it was.

Dri­ving into the val­ley, for some­one who has nev­er been to the val­ley, was quite a mind-blow­ing expe­ri­ence. It was­n’t just dri­ving into the val­ley, it was like drop­ping into a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent planet.

The land­scape was at once alien and mes­mer­iz­ing, formed by mil­lions of years of rich his­to­ry. There’s so much to explore!

1) The Hoodoos!

A vari­a­tion of the word “voodoo”, so named because of their ghost­ly appear­ance and they were thought to pos­sess super­nat­ur­al pow­ers. We first vis­it­ed the Hoodoo Trail on a rainy day, so we most­ly stayed on con­struct­ed paths and plat­forms, because the ben­tonite clay, which cov­ers much of the bad­lands, was very slip­pery to walk on when wet. (more on that later!)

Hoodoos are for­ma­tions of sand­stone with a cap­stone on top that pro­tects the pil­lar under­neath from ero­sion. They’re quite phe­nom­e­nal. Some­one described them as mush­rooms that appear over thou­sands of years in the bad­lands, which makes them all the more spe­cial to me :)

We could­n’t help but returned for a sec­ond vis­it at sun­rise, just before we left Drumheller.

Because it was­n’t rain­ing, we were able to get clos­er to these majes­tic, sculp­tur­al forms.


2) The East Coulee School Muse­um!

The val­ley was a trop­i­cal area mil­lions of years ago rich with plant life and dinosaurs, which means that it then also has a high con­cen­tra­tion of coal, from the fos­sils. Many towns in the region were built dur­ing the coal rush, East Coulee was one of these towns. Accord­ing to the very friend­ly muse­um staff, at its height the town has a pop­u­la­tion of over 3000, but after demands for coal dimin­ished in the 70s, pop­u­la­tion decreased to 160 cur­rent­ly, and the school, where the min­ers’ chil­dren attend­ed, became a muse­um and provin­cial his­toric site.


The muse­um is a trea­sure trove of arti­facts and sto­ries. Many of the orig­i­nal struc­tures and fur­nish­ing were kept (like child-size wash­room stalls and drink­ing foun­tains, sep­a­rate entrances for boys and girls, play­ground equip­ment and these com­pact desks!), and there are many pic­tures I could show you, but I’d leave it for you to explore your­self if you vis­it! :D Do chat with the muse­um staff about a tour of the base­ment and encoun­ters of the super­nat­ur­al kind if you’re a brave soul :S But if you’re like me, you’d prob­a­bly pre­fer sto­ries of the his­tor­i­cal kind, found at one end of the hall­way in a col­lec­tion of pho­tographs and quotes from min­ers about life and work in the val­ley, and in the diaries on each stu­den­t’s desk (about what they had for lunch on a day in 1938). And don’t for­get to vis­it the tea room for a pot of tea and treats!

3) Atlas Coal Mine

Not far from the school muse­um is the Atlas Coal Mine, the last to close in 1979, and now also a muse­um! The tip­ple is the last struc­ture of its kind in Cana­da. I found it both awe-inspir­ing and a bit men­ac­ing, and real­ly felt that my life is quite com­fort­able com­pared to the way it was.

We spent quite a bit of time explor­ing the grounds because we had a lot of time before our sched­uled train tour and because there was a lot to see and take inter­est­ing pic­tures of. Aban­doned trains and cars and weath­ered build­ings against the back­drop of the bad­lands were an aspir­ing pho­tog­ra­pher’s dream. And we were lucky enough to run into Rain­drop, or Lady Wild­fire, Atlas’ super affec­tion­ate res­i­dent cat!

We were watch­ing a video in one of the exhib­it rooms, oth­er vis­i­tors start­ed walk­ing by and smil­ing at us, think­ing that we brought our cat on the trip, and now set­tling in, in front of the TV, with the cat in our laps. “How cute,” one woman said. “It’s not our cat,” I said. “Oh! Can I pet it?” the woman exclaimed. Then Rain­drop ran away :(

We did see Rain­drop a few more times when we were on the train tour, I think she was roam­ing the grounds :) The friend­ly muse­um staff shared some inter­est­ing sto­ries of life in the coal mine, and we even got to meet a man who worked at the Atlas mine since he was 14, and he told a few sto­ries as well! We were very lucky indeed :D

4) The Last Chance Saloon

It is the only busi­ness left in the coal town, Wayne. A fun place to stop for lunch after tour­ing the muse­ums. Lots to see while wait­ing for food!

5) Roy­al Tyrrell Museum

I’ve been look­ing for­ward to vis­it­ing this muse­um of pale­on­tol­ogy since for­ev­er! I’ve nev­er seen spec­i­mens so amazing. 

There has actu­al­ly been a lot of press about this nodosaur. It is so well pre­served, you can see the tex­ture of its skin. To see it with my own eyes rather than a pic­ture on the screen is a remark­able experience.

We took a hik­ing tour led by a muse­um staff in the Mid­land Provin­cial Park, which is right next to the museum.

Here I took some close up pic­tures of the plants in the bad­lands. The flower of this plant is just a cou­ple of mil­lime­ters across.

And this is a super macro pic­ture of ben­tonite clay! Which is formed from vol­canic ash, and would puff up and become more slip­pery than soap when wet, mak­ing the bad­lands dif­fi­cult to trav­el through on rainy days.

6) Hik­ing in the canyons!

I con­sult­ed with this web­site before going to the Horse­shoe Canyon for a sun­rise hike (for good pic­tures) and was expect­ing easy paths, but was sad to see that the wood­en paths and stair­cas­es have all been torn down, with­out any sig­nage explain­ing what was going on. So we ven­tured down (a steep hill! com­ing back up was quite a work­out) and care­ful­ly walked around in a small area, it was worth the climb!

We then drove back on South Dinosaur Trail and stopped at Orkney Look­out to view the Red Deer Riv­er, which was high­ly rec­om­mend­ed by the friend­ly school muse­um staff. It was mag­nif­i­cent indeed!

We then crossed back to the North Dinosaur Trail by tak­ing the Ble­ri­ot Fer­ry, which was kind of like a sec­tion of a road that shifts from one shore of the Red Deer Riv­er to anoth­er. It was free, and the fer­ry staff was also very friend­ly. He told us a sto­ry about a Jeep that attempt­ed to jump onto the fer­ry after it had depart­ed from shore, like in the movies. It fell into the riv­er. No one was hurt though, I think. “Nev­er a dull moment out here,” he said :D

We then stopped at Horsethief Canyon, so named because 1) accord­ing to the Tyrrell Muse­um staff, peo­ple who stole hors­es would hide in this canyon and then acci­den­tal­ly fell into sink holes (to warn us about the dan­ger of hid­den sink holes when walk­ing in the bad­lands) or 2) accord­ing to the plaque at the canyon, hors­es would wan­der into the canyon, dis­ap­pear for a while, and come out car­ry­ing dif­fer­ent brand­ing. Either way, it was breath­tak­ing­ly beau­ti­ful from the look­out point.

We found a way to hike down, and even found some inuk­shuks! Mike made his own to add to the group :)

And we kept run­ning into this ground squir­rel, who tapped Mike’s hand with his paws! Mike insist­ed that he was hugged by the squir­rel. And I thought, I real­ly liked hik­ing in the bad­lands, there’re no bears, or coy­otes, just friend­ly ground squir­rels :) (I think maybe there are rat­tle snakes, but we did­n’t see any :S) 

7) Dinos, dinos, dinos

From the World’s Biggest Dinosaur to the dozens of fun dinosaur sculp­tures in town :D

This is my favourite shot of the World’s Biggest Dinosaur, across from the Red Deer Riv­er, all men­ac­ing, like it’s in its own nat­ur­al habi­tat :D

And this is my favourite of all the pic­tures we took with the friend­ly dinosaur sculp­tures, Mike spent quite a bit of time get­ting the light­ing perfect :)

We were very sad to leave, as you may guess :’( Dif­fi­cult as it was, we drove out of the val­ley for the last time, hop­ing that we will return one day.

And on our way back to Cal­gary for the flight home, we took a very short side trip to the Vil­lage of Beisek­er, to vis­it the world’s largest skunk! Its name is Squirt. It was on a camp­ground, and at its foot a Sat­ur­day morn­ing game of horse­shoes was going on, and a very friend­ly woman took this pic­ture of us :D

Thus con­cludes our wild west adven­tures! Thank you for vir­tu­al­ly jour­ney­ing with us, I hope you enjoy the pic­tures, and if you haven’t vis­it­ed these won­der­ful places, espe­cial­ly the Cana­di­an Bad­lands, I hope you will one day! :D


6 thoughts on “what’s so bad about the badlands?

  1. superbes pho­tos, très intéressant reportage, mer­ci de m’avoir per­mis de faire, une fois encore, un beau voyage!

  2. I’m glad you enjoy the pho­tos! BC is so beau­ti­ful too, I wish I had time to explore more places and def­i­nite­ly will vis­it again!

  3. Fab­u­lous! The pho­tos are real­ly good an the com­ments inter­est­ing and moti­vat­ing. Glad you enjoyed your excur­sion… and… wish I could vis­it those fan­tas­tic places some day ;) — Dreams like this ‘feed’ your soul, don’t they?

  4. Thanks so much for vis­it­ing Angel­i­ca! I’m glad you enjoy the pho­tos and sto­ries! Dreams of vis­it­ing these places again are indeed good for the soul :)

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