On the recommendation of a film school buddy who’s been Canadian all his life, we doubled back east of Calgary to tour the Red Deer River Valley, hitting many of the Badlands hot-spots before immersing ourselves in Drumheller dino-madness.
We drove for nearly two hours along prairie roads, wondering when the landscape would eventually change from grasslands and rolling hills of yellow flax to familiar slopes of striated colors separated by narrow gullies and ravines.
It wasn’t long before we descended into Drumheller Valley and celebrated a welcome change of scenery.
“I’m guessing that this would seem amazing if you’ve never seen the Badlands of North and South Dakota,” opined Leah. It’s true that while it didn’t quite measure up to our recent experiences at Theodore Roosevelt National Park (see Oddities—North Unit) or Badlands National Park (see Battle Lands), it was still an improvement over miles upon miles of farms and ranches.
All of which brings up an interesting question about Badlands semantics: When comparing two Badlands, is the substandard Badlands better or worse than it’s counterpart, or are we just spiraling down an oxymoronic rabbit hole?
Anyway, we picked up the Hoodoo Trail toward East Coulee and pulled into a busy parking lot across the road from a “protected area” where interpretive signs and steel railing surrounded what was left of a few limestone columns.
A forty-something mom was telling her pre-teen son and adolescent daughter that this site was one of her favorites to visit when she was their age, but it was her recollection that there were many more hoodoos at the time.
“What happened to them?” asked Sonny Boy.
“Well,” Mom began, “the weather wore them away, and I guess people vandalized them by too much climbing around, so don’t wander off.” With that, the kids broke free and ambled up the steep slopes with the finesse of bighorn sheep. “Don’t go too far up,” Mom yelled after them, but the kids would not be denied.
Most of the visitors were content to stand on the viewing platform looking up, but I was keen on a closer look.
And while the hoodoos appeared drab in color, the possibility of getting close enough to feel the flaking texture was enough of a reward.
It was while I was working my way back to the viewing deck that I heard a distant cry from the top of the mesa.
“MY KNEE LOCKED UP, AND BARRY SAYS HE’S GONNA BE SICK,” yelled the daughter to her mom, “AND I DON’T THINK I’M ABLE TO GET DOWN!”
Mom wondered aloud to herself, “Now what am I supposed to do?”
“Maybe you should call 9-1-1,” Leah offered.
Not wanting to stick around to watch the drama unfold, we headed to a nearby historic site just pass East Coulee on the other side of the Red Deer River.
Atlas Coal Mine now serves as a stark reminder of the energy heyday of the early 1900’s, up until the last lump of coal was quarried in 1979. Atlas is also home to the last wooden tipple in Canada,
and the source of several recorded unexplained occurrences that have led visitors and paranormalists to conclude that apparitions and voices are as much a part of the physical space as the graveyard of discarded machines that line the entrance to the museum.
On our way back, we passed the hoodoos in time to see an ambulance pull away with who we suspect were the stranded kids on the mesa.
After enjoying lunch nearby at Star Mine Suspension Bridge,
we stepped into the F-150 way-back machine, set the controls for the Cretaceous Period, and transported 67 million years back in time when being a vegetarian got you killed if you were a dinosaur.
We were overwhelmed at the rich assortment of skeletons…
on display at the world reknown Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology.
Apparently, Southern Alberta boasts some of the richest bone-beds in the world for which experts give two simple reasons: it was a good place to live and a better place to die!
The museum goes on to explain that large herbivorous dinosaurs thrived on the abundance of lush vegetation available to them,
which in turn supported the carnivorous dinosaurs’ huge appetite.
And so many dinosaurs during the Cretaceous Period were preserved intact, since the region’s floodplains provided the perfect burial grounds, only to be revealed by Ice Age erosion, and later exhumed by the hard-working staff at the museum.
At times, taking five years to prepare an exhibit of a prehistoric crocodile.
But despite all the serious science to be found at the Royal Tyrrell, dinosaurs can also support the town economy of Drumheller, and dinosaurs can be fun!