The first thing you see as the highway descends into Drumheller is the otherworldly badlands that surround the town. The badlands were formed about 14 000 years ago, when glaciers melted and ran over the land, made up of soft rock like silt and clay, creating the unique formations seen today. What is especially incredible about the badlands, other than their smooth, lunar appearance, is that as they slowly continue to erode, they reveal new dinosaur fossils. In fact, these badlands, which run along the Red River for 300 kilometres, contain the largest and most species-diverse deposits of dinosaur fossils in the world. Drumheller is, needless to say, very much a dinosaur-themed town, and was a fun place to explore.
The Royal Tyrrell Dinosaur Museum of Paleontology, a big attraction in Drumheller, is located just outside of town, off Dinosaur Trail. We went early to avoid the crowds, and there was so much to see. The tour starts with a simple yet interesting visual explanation of evolution, and then progresses through the different time periods of life’s existence on our planet, obviously with a major emphasis on dinosaurs. There is even a large window overlooking the fossil preparation lab where guests can watch technicians work. There was a lot to see and read about at that museum, and well worth the trip.
After the museum, we drove the Dinosaur Trail loop, which took us to Horse Thief Canyon and an extraordinary view of the badlands. We decided to walk down into the canyon a bit, and got a first hand feel for the softness of the earth there. Fisher and I collected some of the clay to play with later, and we got a good workout climbing back up.
Another feature of the badlands is the hoodoos. There’s one hoodoo site outside of Drumheller that gets a lot of tourist attention because of those large, distinctive forms located there. It’s really something to see the kind of sculpture nature can produce.
One funny discussion we had in the car was about the name “badlands”. Fisher felt that it was an unnecessarily negative term for the landscape. I explained that it was likely called that because the land is hard to cross and can’t be used for farming or pretty much anything else, but he and Milo insisted they should be called the goodlands. I think they have a point, that maybe a more descriptive or poetic term could be coined for the land that is so interesting and scenic (and that serves Drumheller’s tourist industry so well).