Horse Thief Canyon
Drumheller, Alberta
June 23, 2012

With rain plastering the mountains west, Dinah and I turned our attention east to the Badlands of Alberta, where the weather held more promise. In particular, we wanted to visit Horse Thief Canyon. Although lacking a true summit objective, the canyon offers a vast playground to explore, a colorful wonderland of small ridges and coulees. Exercise enough, especially for me, since I was recovering from a back injury. (Although not as extensive as Horse Thief Canyon, another Badlands worth seeing is Dry Island Buffalo Jump.)

It was raining when we left Calgary, but halfway to Drumheller we passed the rain line and found clear sailing all the way to the canyon. From the parking lot situated on the rim of the canyon, we followed a trail down to the canyon floor. From there, stratified ridges rose up around us, but after hiking for a few minutes we spied one topped with a cairn. Naturally we gravitated to it. The sides of the ridge were too steep and friable to attack directly, so we worked our way left until we could clamber up the low west end. Once on the crest we hiked along it to the summit.

After taking a panorama, we continued along a lengthy spur that headed down the other side of the summit. It was here, exposed in the earth, that we found our first dinosaur bone. Galvanized to find more, we climbed up and traversed another ridge while searching for more ancient bones. Although bone fragments were ubiquitous, intact bones were rare. However, we discovered a few nice specimens.

After returning to the canyon floor, I got the idea of visiting the Red Deer River which was less than a kilometre away. We crossed the grassy flats only to be hampered by dense bushes just before the river. Dinah hung back while I thrashed my way to the river's edge. I had hoped to find pleasant grass-lined banks or maybe gravel flats, but trees and bushes persisted all the way to the water. So much for an enjoyable stay alongside the river!

I rejoined Dinah and we made our way back to our car. As we drove back, we hit a curtain of rain halfway to Calgary, as if the rain line hadn't moved or faltered since that morning. We drove all the way back to Calgary in a steady rainfall. Given the same weather conditions, I wouldn't hesitate to return to Horse Thief Canyon.


The sign at the parking lot says it all (mouse over to read)


Starting down


From the parking lot on the rim, we dropped 80 m to the canyon floor


A cairn tops this ridge we ascended (mouse over for a close-up)


Prickly pear cactus were in full bloom throughout the canyon


As we ascended the ridge, I noticed what must be thousands of dinosaur bone fragments on
this slope (mouse over for a close-up)


Looking back


We followed the ridge to the summit (centre, click for a larger image)


On the summit, 50 m above the canyon floor


After leaving the summit (right, well in the background) we continued along the ridge


In contrast to the steep, crumbling sides, ridge crests were firm and gentle


Reaching the end of the ridge


Starting up another ridge


The trees in the background line the Red Deer River


Red rocks contrast with the pale earth

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A few dinosaur bones we found (mouse over to enlarge)


Back on the canyon floor


Red Deer River


Heading back


To get back to the parking lot, we had to climb over a few ridges

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