a peek inside the fishbowl

29 Aug, 2018

The Fishbowl goes West: the stark beauty of Drumheller

Posted by andrea tomkins in: travel talk

Imagine that you’re a kid and there’s a truck ahead of you that’s carrying a load of candy. You follow it because every once in awhile a piece of candy falls out on to the road. You pick it up – because, hey, IT’S CANDY. You follow diligently, watching the entire time. The longer you follow it, the more candy starts to fall out. At first it’s just a little bit of candy, a nugget here or there, but the trickle becomes a stream and then the stream becomes a river and then BAM. The river is an ocean of candy as far as your hungry eyes can see.

This is exactly how I felt during our drive from Calgary to Drumheller. The scenery just outside Calgary is nothing to write home about. It’s fairly empty and industrial with a surprising lack of vegetation and only the odd nugget of interest. As you drive through acres of emptiness you soon realize it’s turned into a whole new landscape: acres of farmland occupied by cattle, wheat, and other crops. If you’re not hypnotized by the endless straight line of pavement ahead of you or staring off into seemingly infinite fields of gold, you find yourself counting remote farm houses, silos, and oil wells. These are pretty much the only things other than you underneath a big gorgeous sky that keeps going and going.

Maybe you pull over to snap a photo, knowing deep in your heart that there really isn’t any point because you know it will never do it justice:

Fields, approaching Drumheller AB

After about an hour the landscape starts to roll a bit and those golden wheat fields quietly take a back seat. You almost don’t even notice that it’s happening. Then BAM. The curtains part and the Badlands appear. (To briefly revisit my previous metaphor, the dump truck suddenly skids to a halt, tips sideways, and candy GOES EVERYWHERE.)

What can I say about the Badlands that hasn’t been said before? If you are Canadian and have never seen the Badlands you MUST see it for yourself some day. They are a sight to behold. Warning: you may never be the same afterward.

Family visit to the Alberta Badlands

We started our day in the Alberta Badlands south of the town of Drumheller at Hoodoo Trail. We parked, we ogled, we clambered up the stairs and trails to take in some views of these ancient rock formations.

Hoodoo trail, the Alberta Badlands

We went further up…

Hoodoo trail, the Alberta Badlands

And further…

Hoodoo Trail, south of Drumheller

Until we got to a part that can be called “the top” that gave us some expansive views of the whole area.

Alberta Badlands view

There’s a person in that photo, in case you weren’t sure of the scale we’re talking about here:

Alberta Badlands view

Here’s the view looking down towards the parking lot. (More tiny people!)

View of the Hoodoo Trail parking lot

And here’s another perspective, just to give you an idea:

View at the top of Hoodoo Trail

It was exciting and exhausting to climb to the top, but we did it and lived to tell the tale although we were quite scruffy and dusty by the end. It is a tough scramble, and it should only be undertaken by someone in decent shape wearing proper shoes because it’s steep and the surface dirt and rock is loose in parts. (While climbing up I happened upon one young man who looked frozen in place. I asked him if he was ok and in response, he said: “I regret everything.”)

We had lunch in Drumheller (sadly, many restaurants are closed Mondays for some reason so we ended up at a chain restaurant) and then went to the Royal Tyrell Museum, starting with a self-guided interpretive trail of the Badlands that begins next to the museum entrance. (DO IT. It’s not too strenuous and it’s quite interesting.)

Badlands Interprative Trail, Royal Tyrell Museum

We were glad to eventually escape inside the museum as we were getting a little hot. Yay for AC! The exhibits are great, whether you’re a serious dino-lover or just have a passing interest. We all enjoyed ourselves and Mark bought a t-shirt.

That’s not all we did. We really crammed it in. On this particular day we also saw:

The Star Mine suspension bridge
The World’s Largest Dinosaur
The World’s Smallest Church
Horse Thief Canyon
… and the Horseshoe Canyon

Horseshoe Canyon was very different from when Mark and I first visited 20 years ago during our honeymoon. Back then it was essentially a parking lot and a stand selling fossils. (There MAY have been an outhouse.) Today, there’s a little shop, a fancy covered picnic area, and wooden rails and fencing that effectively block access to the canyon itself. I wanted to go down into the canyon but it wasn’t going to be easy. We spied a group of people who’d walked down via an access road but you had to walk out on to the highway and down a long road and from where we were standing it looked quite far. (Also, we’d been walking all day and were exhausted.)

Fortunately, I spied another way down while standing on the other side of the lookout near the picnic area. There’s a helicopter parked in a field, and a trail nearby led down into the depths of the canyon. It’s not a very difficult descent in running shoes, although we still had to watch our step.

Covered picnic area at Horseshoe Canyon, Alberta

It was gorgeous down there amid the wild sage and the juniper bushes.

Trail down into Horseshoe Canyon, Alberta

It’s the kind of landscape that knocks your socks off. It’s just so darn beautiful.

Everyone went their own way. I followed some well-worn paths towards the squeak of ground squirrels and sought the best views along the way. The youngest checked out a cave. Mark and the eldest examined the rock fall and explored a crack in the earth that had been carved out by water a millennia ago.

We were the only ones there; it was blissfully peaceful and quiet.

Horseshoe Canyon, Alberta

Mark, Horseshoe Canyon

Exploring Horseshoe Canyon, Alberta

View of the Horseshoe Canyon Lookout from the canyon

We saw many beautiful sights that day, but this place was tops for me.

1 Response to "The Fishbowl goes West: the stark beauty of Drumheller"

1 | a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive The Fishbowl goes West: in which the family climbs a mountain - a peek inside the fishbowl

August 31st, 2018 at 3:32 pm


[…] the last chapter of our journey I wrote about our visit to Drumheller. I’ve been looking over our photos and they are simply not good enough. Honestly, the […]

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  • Sam Mangrum: Hi Andrea, I just finished reading your article "Reno post #25: Tile city" and I wanted to say thanks. I found so much value in what you had to say
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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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