Saturday, July 2, 2016

Alberta Road Trip - Day 4 - The Badlands

Following breakfast at the hotel we headed out of Lethbridge, driving for a couple hours through the agrarian prairie-scape en route to the badlands. This region farms a lot of potatoes; a contribution commemorated in the town of Vauxhall ("Potato Capital of the West") by mascots Samantha and Sammy Spud.
Dinosaur Provincial Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site comprising a large area of badlands on the banks of the Red Deer River. As its name would suggest, the park is one of the richest dinosaur fossil beds in the world, with 40 dinosaur species having been excavated in the region.
We drove the 3-km loop road, stopping to walk along one of the trails and to take a look at a couple of glass-housed fossil excavation sites.
The arid landscape, host to cacti, rattlesnakes, and hoodoos, made for a very interesting change of scenery. As we headed out of the park and followed the Red Deer river valley towards Drumheller, outcroppings of badlands sporadically interrupted the farmland. One particularly scenic area was the almost ghost town of Dorothy, where we stopped for a car picnic. Several abandoned buildings and a derelict grain elevator imbued the town with memories of a simpler time.
Just down the valley from Dorothy is the Atlas Coal Mine, a National Historic Site which we didn't pay admission to tour.
We continued on to see the Drumheller hoodoos, which were a popular destination on this long-weekend Saturday. There were tons of visitors scrambling all over the landforms; fortunately the hoodoos themselves were protected from human weathering by a series of fenced walkways.
A hoodoo gains its characteristic mushroom shape by wind and water weathering its sand/clay columnar base at a greater rate than its more solid "capstone" top. Over many years, its base weakens to the point where the hoodoo collapses, leaving only the capstone behind.
We continued through the town of Drumheller, but as it was late in the day left a visit to its famous Royal Tyrrell Museum for another time. We instead visited the Little Church, an operational church by the side of the highway that seats just six at a time.
Just northwest of Drumheller we stopped on the rim of Horsethief Canyon, a badlands landscape where one can easily picture outlaws and stolen horses hiding in the coulees. While we weren't amongst the few adventurous tourists to scramble down into the canyon wilds, we did appreciate the beauty of the canyon's coal-creased and cactus-dotted strata.
From Drumheller we headed north to Edmonton, along a secondary road east of the main highway, leading through the small cities of Stettler and Camrose, alongside canola farms, and past hundreds of ponds. It was a lovely drive in the late afternoon sun; a nice way to end our little road trip.

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