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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 promise. In particular, we wanted to visit Horse Thief Canyon. Although lacking a summit objective, the canyon offers a vast playground to explore, a colourful wonderland of small ridges and coulees. Exercise enough, especially for me since I was recovering from a back injury. (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 Horse Thief Canyon. From the parking lot on the rim of the canyon, we followed a trail down to the canyon floor. From there, stratified ridges rose around us, but after hiking for a few minutes we spied a point 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 north along a long 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 river bank. 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; it was 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 (mouse over to read)

Starting down

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

A cairn topped this ridge we ascended

Prickly pear cactus were in full bloom throughout the canyon (mouse over for a top view)

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

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

Looking back at the first ridge we climbed

Behind us, trees line the Red Deer River

Red rocks contrast with the pale earth

Dinah looks for dinosaur bones

A few dinosaur bones we found

Back on the canyon floor

Red Deer River

Heading back

We entered the canyon ahead and looked for a spot to ascend

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

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