Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Canada has its Badlands, too

with 55 comments

Only in May of this year did I finally make it to the Badlands of South Dakota. Even more recently than that, I learned that Alberta has Badlands as well. Did you know that?

We arrived in Calgary on the evening of August 24th, and on each of the next two days we drove out to see parts of the Badlands. Today’s photograph is from the afternoon of August 26th at the well-known hoodoos east of Drumheller. While the picture looks tranquil enough, the truth is that dozens of tourists were swarming over the area at the time, so I had to be patient and go through some contortions to get unencumbered pictures of this most famous part of the formations. I also had to aim so as to exclude the metal fences, stairs, and railings that have been installed to keep people from climbing on and further eroding the hoodoos.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 27, 2017 at 4:46 AM

55 Responses

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  1. I’m flummoxed to learn the Canadians call anything bad.
    I just assumed it would be “Sorry-Not-Really-Quite-as-Nice-as-the-Rest–of-Canada-Land”

    Robert Parker

    September 27, 2017 at 7:52 AM

    • Let’s hear it for sarcasm. What you say might be true in this case if not for the fact that the term Badlands has taken on a positive connotation as a scenic type of geological environment.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 27, 2017 at 7:59 AM

    • This made me laugh. Shades of Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery in Lake Wobegon. Remember the slogan? “If you can’t find it at Ralph’s, you can get along (pretty good) without it.” When it comes to that self-effacing attitude, there’s not a lick of difference between Minnesota and the provinces to the north. Even the occasional Iowan understood that it wasn’t nice to “put yourself forward.” That’s why we laugh uproariously at Keillor: we recognize ourselves.


      September 28, 2017 at 8:04 AM

      • What you say about Ralph’s reminds me of another claim: if you can’t buy it in New York, it doesn’t exist.

        Steve Schwartzman

        September 28, 2017 at 8:13 AM

  2. Peopled again. You did a heroic job of hiding the truth in that regard.


    September 27, 2017 at 8:28 AM

    • Yes, peopled. Every scenic place we went in the early part of our trip swarmed with tourists. In the days before our departure things were getting less crowded, especially during the week. With that in mind, we revisited these hoodoos near the end of the trip and found a lot less people. Naturally I took another set of pictures.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 27, 2017 at 8:51 AM

      • I’m glad you got a less crowded experience in the hoodoos. What a fun word.


        September 28, 2017 at 9:05 AM

        • Etymologists have conjectured that hoodoo is an altered form of voodoo, with the geological formations imagined as fantastic figures from voodoo.

          When we arrived at the hoodoos the first time, lots of people were already there. During our visit a tour bus pulled up and added dozens more people to the swarm.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 28, 2017 at 9:34 AM

          • I figured it was related to voodoo, yet I associate voodoo with the far south.


            September 29, 2017 at 8:21 AM

            • You raise an interesting question of how the transition was made to geological formations that are further north.

              Steve Schwartzman

              September 29, 2017 at 9:18 AM

  3. I think for us it will be the Badlands of SD first, and may bicycle part of the George Mickelson Trail in SD. And possibly combine that with the Theodore Roosevelt NP in ND, a glimpse of which we caught on our recent trip [pictures to follow soon an my blog].
    Thanks for showing this one here, of Canadian Badlands.


    September 27, 2017 at 10:25 AM

    • The Badlands of South Dakota are relatively flat, and therefore lend themselves to cycling. We were sorry after we’d gotten that far north not to be able to continue on to the Badlands of North Dakota, but we had a commitment in Austin that we had to be back for on a certain date.

      You’re welcome for this view of a part of Alberta’s Badlands. Others may follow.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 27, 2017 at 12:08 PM

      • We’ll have to see when, but we’re definitely planning to go back to SD some time.


        September 28, 2017 at 10:40 AM

  4. clay, for the most part, as is the Painted Desert.


    September 27, 2017 at 2:54 PM

    • When we went on an hour-and-a-half guided walk in the formations outside the museum in Drumheller, the guide talked about the bentonite clay there. She even put a bit in her mouth to show how it expands when wet.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 27, 2017 at 3:58 PM

      • And bentonite clay was named after the Cretaceous Benton Shale near Rock River, Wyoming. The Benton shale took its name from Fort Benton, a small city in Montana on the Upper Missouri River, and the original fort which became the genesis of the town — Fort Benton — was named after Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri. Those Bentons are lurking everywhere.


        September 28, 2017 at 8:25 AM

        • Your comment prompted me to search, and I found something I’d forgotten: the first chapter in James Willard Schultz’s My Life as an Indian is titled “Fort Benton.” Here are the first two paragraphs:

          Wide, brown plains, distant, slender, flat-topped
          buttes; still more distant giant mountains,
          blue-sided, sharp-peaked, snow-capped; odour of sage
          and smoke of camp fire; thunder of ten thousand
          buffalo hoofs over the hard, dry ground; long-drawn,
          melancholy howl of wolves breaking the silence of
          night, how I loved you all I

          I am in the sere and yellow leaf, dried and shrivelled,
          about to fall and become one with my millions of pred-
          ecessors. Here I sit, by the fireplace in winter, and out
          on the veranda when the days are warm, unable to do
          anything except live over in memory the stirring years
          I passed upon the frontier. My thoughts are always of
          those days; days before the accursed railroads and the
          hordes of settlers they brought swept us all, Indians and
          frontiersmen and buffalo, from the face of the earth, so
          to speak.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 28, 2017 at 9:01 AM

  5. Hoodoo the Voodoo that You Do?

    Nice work eliminating the distracting humans. Aside from lack of drive to drive to iconic places, people are one of the reasons, although not the main one, that I photograph where I do and when I do.

    Steve Gingold

    September 27, 2017 at 3:38 PM

    • Shades of Cole Porter. Etymologists have conjectured that hoodoo is an altered form of voodoo, with the geological formations imagined as fantastic figures from that religion.

      Yes, I did pretty well keeping people out of my pictures. In a few cases, when someone way in the distance seemed likely not to move for a while I took the picture anyway, knowing I could clone out the small figure later.

      One reason that both of us do macro photography is that people can be near by and still not cause a problem with our pictures. Still, given the scenery I’ve had access to on recent trips, I devoted much of my time to the landscape rather than to closeups.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 27, 2017 at 4:10 PM

  6. Shooting wide shots in popular places without people in them is the WORST part of being a photographer. I have many funny stories of my family waiting for me to get at the right angle — them, the backdrop, and none of the other 40 people crammed in the same space. You succeeded here quite well; not a single head aside from the mushroom geology.

    I’m still laughing at your first commenter’s alternate Canadian description.


    September 27, 2017 at 8:01 PM

    • Yes, that first comment was a funny bit of sarcasm, wasn’t it?

      The tourist season hadn’t yet begun winding down during the first part of our trip, so this place wasn’t the only one where I had to avoid human obstacles to take my pictures. And not only to take pictures: earlier in the day I’d bought tickets to visit the excellent paleontology museum in Drumheller, but by the time I’d spent two-and-a-half hours outside and tried to go into the museum, people were standing several deep in front of all the exhibits. Given that madhouse, I got a refund on our tickets. When returned two weeks later, and not on a weekend, things were finally back to normal and we could enjoy the museum.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 27, 2017 at 9:05 PM

  7. I did not know that Alberta has Badlands and hoodoos. I didn’t know NZ has the same. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Putangirua_Pinnacles


    September 28, 2017 at 2:49 AM

  8. Remarkable strata especially those white ‘teeth’ just above the right Hoodoo. I never knew there were ‘Badlands’ in Canada.


    September 28, 2017 at 2:59 AM

    • There’s an area off to the left that I photographed and that looked to me like a scattered bunch of pointy teeth, as opposed to those that you see lined up in the light-colored stratum. You can add the Canadian Badlands to your list of places to visit. The American Badlands are worth a trip, too, if you haven’t already seen them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 28, 2017 at 6:46 AM

  9. Amazing place!


    September 28, 2017 at 5:11 AM

  10. One of my readers, who lives in eastern Canada, has roots and family still in Alberta, and told me about these formations when I wrote about Monument Rocks in Kansas. I’m so taken by the contrast between the smooth “triplets” and the striated formations below and behind them. It allows them to really stand out, and helps to emphasize the differences among them.


    September 28, 2017 at 8:31 AM

    • And notice how each of the three hoodoos also has strata, most noticeably in the upper portion of the one on the right. For anyone who’s fascinated by strata, both Badlands repay the cost of the visit.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 28, 2017 at 9:16 AM

  11. Fascinating stones!


    September 28, 2017 at 8:57 AM

  12. Glad you enjoyed your trip to The Great White North. 🙂 If you ever make it to Yoho National Park (it’s in BC – British Columbia – and shares a border with Banff National Park) it has some fabulous hoodoos. You can even camp in Hoodoo Creek campground. Google “images Yoho hoodoos” for pics.


    September 28, 2017 at 4:41 PM

  13. Hi Steve. I’ve been there too! Fascinating desolate place, but with pockets of life. I find it interesting how we call badlands such a name…the real badlands tend to be where humanity abounds I am inclined to think. 🙂


    September 28, 2017 at 11:01 PM

    • Fascinating indeed. I imagine there’s plenty of life out there for anyone willing to spend time observing.

      My understanding of the term “badlands” is that it came about from settlers who wanted to farm and ranch but found it difficult or impossible to do so in places like this.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 28, 2017 at 11:09 PM

      • Interesting origin of the phrase! Learn something new every day.


        September 28, 2017 at 11:18 PM

        • Word origins happen to be an interest of mine.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 28, 2017 at 11:20 PM

          • I like older British comedy based on wordplay as well…there isn’t so much of it about any more.


            September 29, 2017 at 12:06 AM

            • There’s plenty in the works of William S. Gilbert. Austin has an active Gilbert and Sullivan Society.

              Steve Schwartzman

              September 29, 2017 at 9:16 AM

              • It’s great what is celebrated around the world as people with shared passions come together. I love WordPress for that reason too.


                September 29, 2017 at 1:07 PM

                • So far I’ve met, in person, about half a dozen of the people I’ve “met” through blogs. The farthest afield has been Christchurch, NZ.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  September 29, 2017 at 4:16 PM

                • I think I’ve lost count of how many different places I’m aware of WordPress authors being from…a big community.


                  September 29, 2017 at 6:01 PM

                • We could add a letter and turn WordPress into WorldPress.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  September 29, 2017 at 6:08 PM

  14. Amazing formations Steve … not a person to be seen 😉


    October 2, 2017 at 1:43 PM

    • Some of the formations we saw reminded us, though they were different, of the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki, which we visited in 2015.

      As for the lack of people, I did it the old-fashioned way, by choosing a good vantage point rather than resorting to after-the-fact Photoshop.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 2, 2017 at 1:54 PM

  15. Great composition – it really does look as if no one else was anywhere around.

    Anabel Marsh

    November 7, 2017 at 4:08 AM

    • I do my best to exclude human elements from nature pictures. You know from experience how crowded this place is during the tourist season. As for composition, I do what I have to, which sometimes means kneeling, sitting, or even lying on the ground to get a good angle.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 7, 2017 at 6:18 AM

  16. […] tens of meters away from the famous hoodoos located a few miles east of Drumheller, Alberta, are these that get less attention but are highly […]

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