In a great big world that seems to move faster every day, a trip to Alberta’s southern Badlands is the perfect vacation to discover a little something about yourself. It’s not just the massive and famous Royal Tyrell Museum where you can get up close and personal with the creatures that roamed the earth millions of years ago – the Badlands provide a snapshot of our world that is frozen in time, and helps us to understand our place in it.
There are many historic sites to visit in Drumheller, but you’d be remiss if you skip one of the most popular attractions: the hoodoos.
What is a Hoodoo?
A hoodoo forms when sandstone erodes under a flat stone top, or cap. The erosion, protected by the stone cap, forms a pillar. The protected hoodoos in Drumheller rise up to 20 feet, but in other places around the world, hoodoos have been recorded as high as 150 feet.
While hoodoos seem to last for eons – they take millions of years to form – these stunning rock formations are not eternal. In fact, they are surprisingly fragile. If the cap is dislodged, the pillar deteriorates quickly. Eventually, cap or not, the erosion on the sides of the pillar simply becomes too much and the hoodoo falls.
What is Special About Drumheller’s Hoodoos?
While you can see numerous small hoodoos forming along the Hoodoo Trail on Highway 10 South near Drumheller, it’s worth the short drive to see the protected hoodoos. They’ve stood like gentle giants in the Badlands for millions of years. According to Blackfoot and Cree tradition, the hoodoos come alive at night to protect the land by throwing stones at intruders. It’s easy to imagine these imposing figures protecting the rocky landscape!
Drumheller’s hoodoos are one of Alberta’s most distinctive natural attractions. The stone caps contain nearly 40 per cent calcite cement, making them exceptional slow to erode. The hoodoos also have unique banding that shows the different stages of the earth’s formation. Their history is, quite literally, written in stone.
Despite their age and strong cap stones, the hoodoos are eroding at around one centimeter per year.
Vandalism of the Hoodoos
When you visit the hoodoos, signs designate where you can stand and take photos. It’s important not to leave the trails or safe areas, and it’s very important, for your own safety and for the safety of the structures, not to touch the hoodoos. Sadly, this has not stopped some people from damaging the artifacts.
Ignoring the fines that can range up to $50,000 and the possible year in jail, a Calgary man carved his name, his daughter’s name, and the word “Columbia” into one of the hoodoos in 2011. He was lucky to get just a $1,000 fine (he had a previous clean record and did not read English; therefore, did not understand the signs).
Vandals struck again in 2016 when a coloured smoke can was left on site, spraying blue paint onto one of the hoodoos.
Until 2011, only signs warned tourists to stay off the hoodoos, but that didn’t stop visitors from touching them, sitting on them, and hugging them for photo ops. This increased the rate of erosion, so fences and pathways were constructed. Now the hoodoos are much harder to touch, but you can still admire their beauty with ease.
A Measure of Time
The ancient yet fragile hoodoos are a real wonder. They started forming when the earth was young and they will be around long after our bones have turned to dust – yet they are fragile and extremely susceptible to human interference. It’s a very interesting juxtaposition and one that you can enjoy by gazing on the gentle giants that have reigned over the Badlands for millions of years.
Learn more about visiting the hoodoos and other Drumheller attractions at www.traveldrumheller.com.