Rock-ing Good Time in the Drumheller Valley
There are few places in the world where you are likely to see such diversity in geological formation and raw beauty as in the Canadian Badlands.
To put the region into perspective, it is approximately the same geographic size as the country of Portugal and as diverse in its landscape and attractions as it comes.
I recently had the opportunity to join some Canadian Badlands industry partners on a special FAM tour that started on a brisk early summer morning at the mouth of Horseshoe Canyon, about 17 km west of Drumheller and just off Highway 9.
Upon arrival, the beauty and splendour of this natural wonder is both immediate and immense. The canyon appears literally out of nowhere and devours the prairie landscape around it in a way that makes it appear otherworldly.
There are several excellent, newly built look-out points that allow access to all ages and abilities to view the canyon in all its glory. And, if you are so inclined, there are some rather uncomplicated hiking trails that allow you to actually reach the bottom of the canyon for a more intimate view of a cretaceous period, 70 million years ago where dinosaurs roamed a lush sub-tropical habitat.
From there, our day trip took us to the Rosedale Suspension Bridge in the town of Rosedale, just outside of Drumheller. This 117-metre-long bridge crosses the Red Deer River and is entirely suspended and supported by cable and a metal plank walk. The bridge was constructed for the workers of the Star Mine back in 1931.
After a rocking good time on the suspension bridge, we made our way to the hoodoos of Drumheller Valley. These oddly-shaped sandstone rock formations appear as though they were brought from another planet and for sure another time – about 65 million years ago to be more precise. The hoodoos, or as some of the locals call them ‘Fairy Chimneys’, are masterfully-built by Mother Nature through millions of years of erosion, often standing up to 20 feet tall. These particular hoodoos are protected, and It should go without saying that climbing is not permitted on these natural monoliths. However, there are plenty of natural trails that allow you to quietly walk and imagine a different space and time among these sandstone giants. Nearby is a great ice cream stand during the summer months – Hoodoo Hydration Station – that makes our “Best Places” to get ice cream in the Canadian Badlands. It’s definitely worth checking out!
Our hosts brought a wonderful picnic lunch that we enjoyed amongst the hoodoos, and then it was off to Atlas Coal Mine.
Atlas Coal Mine is 20 minutes southeast of Drumheller on Highway 10 and is a must-see Alberta Historical Site. The mine was opened in 1911 and operated until its closure in 1979. The actual mining site sits today on 31 hectares of land with historically relevant buildings, trackways and an underground guided mine tour for visitors. Our guide was very knowledgeable and took us on a 1.5 hour-long “day-in-the-life of a coal miner” tour. It was incredible to get a glimpse of a coal miner’s day; from the time they would arrive at the site, don a cap lamp, hike up a rather steep tunnel to the entry of the mine, until the end of their 12-hour shift, when miners cleaned up in the communal shower (often with 100 + men!), and picked up paycheques from the Mine Manager’s on-site office.
The Atlas Coal Mine offers other visitor experiences including; a surface mine site tour on an old, electric drive train; the Tipple Tour, a walk-up inside a 7-story wooden structure to learn about how coal was sorted by size, then later stored and shipped; the fascinating tale (and marketing genius!) of the much sought-after “Wild Fire Coal”, a premium product resulting from a mishap with a bucket of orange paint; and the Unmentionables Tour, telling the more scandalous tales of the seedy underbelly of the Drumheller Valley mining industry.
Our day-tripping in the Drumheller Valley would not have been complete without a stop in Wayne, Alberta, home of the Rosedeer Hotel and the Last Chance Saloon. Built in 1913, the saloon garnered the nickname ”Bucket of Blood Saloon”. But that’s a story for another time…