The Canadian Badlands: Some Places Surpass One’s Expectations!
Drumheller, Alberta, Canada
When we checked into the car rental counter at the Calgary airport and indicated to the sales rep that before heading off to Banff we would first be visiting Drumheller, he stared at us with an incredulous look. His immediate reply was, “Why not Banff instead of Drumheller?”
Now that’s a good question! However, we must admit that some places surpass your expectations, and although this corner of the earth may not be as glamorous as Banff, in its own unique way it still has a great deal to offer.
Travel books describe Drumheller as the gateway to the badlands of the Red Deer River Valley. What are badlands?
Apparently, early French settlers of the area found the land to be unfriendly for farming and thus named it “mauvaise terre” or “bad land.” However, what they did discover was a terrain rich in fossil beds and coal. It should be noted that it was the First Nations people that first discovered fossils in this area and they believed them to be the ancestors of the Bison. It was also their belief that these badlands were one giant graveyard for these animals and the Hoodoos were their protectors.
Quite amazing was that the head of the first dinosaur remains known today as Albertasaurus was discovered in this area by Joseph Burr Tyrrell in 1884.
Were we in for a pleasant surprise after driving the first hour from Calgary through endless miles of rolling farmland! Just before reaching Drumheller, we noticed Horseshoe Canyon, which reminded us of a smaller version of the Grand Canyon. It is here where we had our first awesome glimpse of these beautiful badlands.
The ambiance and setting was very different from that of the Banff National Park area, however, there was something romantic and dreamy about this terrain that had been melted down over thousands of years by huge glaciers. It was difficult to envision that at one time this arid and desert-like area had been green.
Moving on a few miles down the road, we commenced our descent into Drumheller, where the land suddenly drops from the prairie to river through steep dry canyons that the locals call “coulees.” It was as if we were entering a valley resembling a scene from Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, where dinosaurs once freely roamed and ruled the earth.
We noticed the multicolored rocks that had been subjected to millions of years of wind, water and ice, leaving behind some of the most entrancing fossils anywhere on the planet. It was kind of an eerie feeling, although quite appropriate, considering that Drumheller is now home to the Royal Tyrrell Museum, where you will find the world’s largest exhibit of complete dinosaur skeletons, and where you can experience billions of years of the earth’s history through skeletons, fossils, hands-on displays and computer simulations.
Quite noteworthy is that due to its arid, desert-like resemblance, this area has been used to film such movies as Legend of the Fall with Brad Pitt, Shanghai Noon with Jackie Chan, and Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.
By the way, if you are looking for the world’s smallest church that boasts about seating 10,000 people, 6 at a time, check out Drumheller’s Little Church near the Tyrrell museum. Several weddings are held in the church each year and there is no charge to hold the ceremony here. All that is requested is a little donation.
Once you arrive in Drumheller, a convenient and affordable place to stay while exploring Drumheller and environs is The Inns and Spa at Heartwood.
Although not all of the rooms are what we would call romantic, there are a few that fall within this category. If you are seeking a romantic get-away, be sure to request one of the carriage suites that have double Jacuzzis, a sitting area by a fireplace, and a carriage bed that is about four feet off the ground with little steps to ascend. There is also a separate honeymoon cottage but without the high bed.
What is interesting about this establishment, particularly for the area, is that they have a full service spa that is noted for its Healing Arts and its Couples Massage, where guests receive 1Ã¯Â¿Â½ hours of massage each, while their partner learns to give a massage for their specific body type, stress points, and relaxation centers, then they switch places and the other learns. This is a perfect way to end your day after exploring the Canadian Badlands.
Owners Norah and Bob Hamilton have been operating this inn for the past ten years. Bob is a cabinet-maker and carpenter by trade and he has put his skills to very good use in renovating the inn. Norah is a friendly spirit who looks after the business end of the inn, and together with her very competent staff makes a stay here a joy.
A great place to enjoy a pleasant dining experience and at the same time view some spectacular scenery is Mother Mountain Tea House & Restaurant, located in the tiny hamlet of Delia that is about a half hour drive from Drumheller.
Charming owners Heide Peterson and Yvon Fournier have done a magnificent job in converting the old Crown Lumber Building built around 1912 into a great dining venue. It is little wonder that a few years ago the Western Canadian Premiers had chosen to dine here when they met in Drumheller.
The restaurant comes complete with antique furniture accumulated over the years and gleaming maple floors. Be sure to try their scrumptious baby back ribs and leave room for the delectable home made desserts. During the busy season it is highly recommended that you call and make reservations as the place fills up quickly.
For lunch you have to drop into one of Drumheller’s favorite hangouts, Bernie & The Boys. It is here where you will find owner-chef Bernie Germain making some of the tastiest hamburgers in Alberta. If you are really hungry try the Mammoth Burger that weighs just over three pounds. It is comprised of 6oz patties on an 8-inch bun with mayo, lettuce, tomato and pickles.
Bernie can also prepare you a breakfast made from an ostrich egg, which is something you will not find anywhere else, as they are the first restaurant in Canada to serve them. As one egg makes 6 to 8 omelettes, you will need a party of six more to enjoy this delicacy.
What To Do In and Around Drumheller
Be sure to spend some time on the Dinosaur Trail that starts in Drumheller.
Dinosaur Provincial Park
Royal Tyrrell Museum
The World’s Largest Dinosaur
The Fossil Shop
Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site
Attractions In Drumheller
Mother’s Mountain Tea House and Country Store
102 1st Avenue W