The torn and twisted landscape of the Drumheller Badlands stretches like a giant scar through the rolling farmlands of southern Alberta. It is a conglomeration of gulches, buttes, gulleys, and canyons, all eroded from multicolored layers of sandstone, mudstone, coal, and shale that date back 70 million years. The impact of visiting this place can be overwhelming, as if one has been transported back in time to another era, or even another planet.
There’s a good reason for this ancient world being called the “Badlands”—it is of no use to agriculture—but it is a treasure trove for dinosaur hunters. Throughout these hills fossil hunters have discovered some of the greatest dinosaur fossils ever recorded, including complete skeletons of the king of the dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus rex. Not surprisingly, they call this the dinosaur capital of the world—dozens of fossilized dinosaur skeletons are displayed in the world-class Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, in the heart of the Badlands. The museum tells of the story of the golden age of dinosaurs, and their perplexing, sudden extinction.
The Drumheller Badlands get their name from the nearby town of Drumheller, and were created by the relentless process of erosion caused by wind, water, and ice. Conveniently for scientists, this action exposed sediments from the Cretaceous Era, just before the dinosaurs became extinct. In more recent times the Badlands became part of the folklore of Alberta, providing shelter from the elements for the Cree and Blackfoot peoples, and a convenient hideaway for horse thieves and outlaws trying to avoid the authorities. Today they are a major attraction to travelers hungry for a different experience to the relative monotony of the prairie wheat fields. To experience the many moods of the Badlands it’s best to visit more than once, and at different times of the day. At sunrise they glow pink, at noon they are bleached white by the high sun, only to turn golden in late afternoon, and finally to fiery orange and deep purple at sunset.