I’m in Alberta for the next week on an excursion in the Badlands followed by a travel media conference in Edmonton. Yesterday our small group was picked up at the Calgary airport by Pat “The Bandlands Guy” Mulgrew of Wild West Badlands Tours and we began a whirlwind visit of this unique region.
Wild West Badlands Tours Alberta
“It’s the dinosaur capital of the world… as proclaimed by us!” chuckled Pat who has lived in Drumheller since the 1970s. The ride was smooth as the Rocky Mountains shrunk behind us and the plains opened up. We rolled over hills flanked by fields of wheat or canola and spotted the occasional oil field pumper on the horizon.
Our first stop was Horseshoe Canyon where I got my first taste of the badlands’ wind. Pushing my hair across my face and whipping up soil, the wind didn’t howl as much as it sounded an incessant, eerie, low-pitched whistle.
After we settled into our inn rooms in Drumheller, we set out once more along the Dinosaur Trail. The first stop on this leg was the Passion Play amphitheater where they mainly put on biblical-themed productions but have also hosted the symphony in the 3,000 seat venue.
From there we made it up to a viewpoint where locals say they have their own “Mini Grand Canyon”. We walked along dirt paths past wild berry bushes and admired the impressive views of the river valley below.
It seemed like every few kilometers the rolling prairie would part and a canyon would appear. Our van coasted down to the valley and we made it over the river on a small cable ferry.
On the other side we ended up at Horse Thief Canyon, across from our last viewpoint. You can walk out along the top of the coulees where trails wind down and there are no railings to fence you in.
All along our winding route, Pat provided information that spanned thousands (even millions) of years. He could fire off the name of pretty much all 40 species of dinosaur found in Drumheller then tell you about the coal mining days. He could talk about fossils, natural sandstone, shale, and sage then follow that up by telling you which Hollywood Western was most recently filmed in town, bringing in the likes of Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg. He even found a potential fossil of his own that he’ll be bringing into the Royal Tyrrell Museum.
We visited next with a bison in a pasture and others in corrals just down the road. Facing into the unrelenting wind, the bison huddle together as a few explored grassy mounds or rolled in the dust. Pat said that facing the wind is normal for bison while cattle tend to face away.
As the sun began to coast downward in the Alberta sky, we passed old mine sites and slag heaps, and ended up at the Alberta Star Mine suspension bridge. We made the quick round-trip crossing over the white-capped currents on the Red Deer River below.
The hoodoo rock formations were up next where the government recently put in a walkway to protect the eroding stone columns of this popular attraction.
I will forgive Pat for occasionally cranking the Canadian country music in the van since his stories and sense of humour were so great. The tour was quick, we covered an incredible amount of ground, and it was really fascinating. I liked that Pat knew personal tales from locals, history, and so much about the Drumheller community. It didn’t feel like a tour guide was reading a script – it felt like a genuine and friendly local was proudly showing us his backyard, which was pretty much the case.
Our last stop was in the mouth of the 85-foot dinosaur (which is in fact the world’s largest). Located in the visitor info centre you can donate $3 to make the trek up 106 steps to look out over the town. This tyrannosaurus is four times larger than the actual size of a t-rex.
After a quick detour to a “fossil shop” we returned to our inn to get ready for dinner and wind down after a long day.
Today we visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum and head out on a mine tour. We’ll be staying in the ghost town of Wayne tonight at the old Rosedeer Hotel (circa 1913).
I’m on the road until we meet up with other conference delegates in Edmonton on Sunday. I’m certain we’ll encounter more fossils, local lore and legend, and more of the haunting beauty of Alberta’s Badlands.
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