Photography Blog

Barren is the New Beautiful, Alberta Badlands, Canada (CA013)

With camera gear loaded into the four wheel drive a passionate photographer must drive a good 2 to 3 hours east from Calgary to reach the borders of the dinosaur fossil laden badlands.  Dinosaur Provincial Park is a favourite Canada location of this well travelled photographer, even though all it wants to do is bake things to death in the summer and freeze them to death in the winter. A place where you can get a nasty summer sunburn or, on the contrary, a painful dose of winter frostbite (they both have a burning sensation).  If your timing is spot-on during the changing of seasons you might even be lucky enough to become sunburnt and frost bitten on the same day.

Hurtling along the TransCanada Highway towards the Saskatchewan border a traveller knows they are approaching the town of Brooks due to the vibrant whiff of cattle and pig on the breeze.  Brooks is the largest settlement in the region and is only about 20-25 minutes drive from Dinosaur Provincial Park.  Usually highway travellers will smell Brooks before they can see it.  At around 15-20 kilometres before Brooks you will inhale the type of wafting-smell that will have you repeatedly checking the soles of your shoes for unsavoury substances often found in locations frequented by dogs and cattle.  Just before Brooks at the Dinosaur Provincial Park turn-off your eyes will be watering from the concentrated mouldy, rotten cattle/pig flavour in the air.  Even with the vehicle ventilation switched to only recycling air from the vehicle cabin, the outside smell will find its way inside and start to dissolve your nose hairs and finger nails.  After making the turn off the TransCanada Highway you start to instinctively accelerate to outrun the oink-oink smell as it chases the car like a noxious gas.

The small town of Patricia sits only a short drive from the badlands.  After feeling like they’ve been exposed to poison gas, travellers can stop at the Patricia Hotel for lunch and/or dinner where they can sit in the old bar with its decorated walls of rodeo and hockey paraphernalia, ranch equipment and a variety of sensibly preserved animal parts.  The food isn’t flash but instead rural town honest, filling and reasonably priced.  Order a large chunk of meat with extra meat…the meat won’t have come from too far away – most likely from the next paddock over.  Now that you have finish your meat and, quite wisely, didn’t get gunned down by suggesting out loud that “vegetarians are really on to something!” or “Alberta should really get their act together and do more to support green party policies!” or “Hooray for the NDP!” …you’re alive, nourished and ready to continue onwards to the Badlands.

Before driving down the steep, well-made road in to the park valley, a really good view can be had by parking in the large parking area on the rim of the entire badlands valley expanse.  The sun sets behind the viewer (or camera) and the entire landscape lights up in evening colours to reveal a highly textured and detailed setting – it’s like standing on the edge of a mini Grand Canyon.  The museum is worth a quick look as you head down the road.  Once parked in the bottom, outside the café, you can elect to walk straight in to the badlands, walk along the Red Deer river or stroll through the camp grounds to another section containing badlands trails.  Driving through the campground and over the creek via a bridge will take you on an easy-to-drive loop of a key section of the badlands.  A regular vehicle (car) will drive the dirt road loop without a problem and there are viewing points to stop at along the way.  The whole loop is only a few kilometres – even with stops it will take only an hour a the most, even less for many travellers.

For the photographer the Badlands offers a wind, water and ice sculptured landscape that changes its appearance with the seasons.  In summer the Canadian sun sits high in the sky during the day where it creates hard shadows with intense colour and contrast across the yellow-orange layered hills of Dinosaur Provincial Park.  The softer summer light happens either at 6:00 am in the morning or around 10:00 pm at the end of a long summer’s day.  When winter arrives, as depicted in these photos shot in mid to late November, the sun sits closer to the horizon creating softer, warmer light.  The days are shorter and much colder with bouts of light snow falling like a white, fluffy blanket across the Badlands eroded formations and outcrops.  From late morning until sunset the landscape takes on a desert, almost Arizona or Outback Australia, like look and feel…keeping in mind the photographer is standing in light snow, minus 10 degrees, and a prehistoric, arid terrain surround by green grassland prairies.  In the colder seasons the park will be pretty much void of people…which is great for photographers enabling them to point the camera in any direction and only capture the scenery and natural features without waiting for people to move out of shot.  When walking the trails at quiet times keep an eye out for birds or prey, rattle snakes and other native wildlife, such as Coyote and Pronghorn Antelope, that like to call the Badlands home.

Dinosaur Provincial Park is a peaceful place with a unique look and feel.  For a photographer, standing in the middle of a naturally eroded, always changing sculpture-like landscape with colours and shadows that shift during the course of a day in tune with the movement of the sun is ideal. Standing motionless behind the tripod, all that can be heard is the sound of a light breeze blowing through the narrow canyons, small birds twittering and the occasional click of the camera…all while waiting for the sun to set and the moon to rise.

 

 

 

Dinosaur Provincial Park (DPP) Facts
  • Dinosaur Provincial Park (DPP) is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

  • The park holds the world's most complete record of the late Cretaceous Period when dinosaurs dominated the landscape.

  • It is located 219 km (2.5 hours drive) from Calgary in the south-east corner of Alberta.

  • It is a comparitably small at only 73 km2 in total area.

  • The dinosaur fossil diggings have yielded more than 50 different species across hundreds of specimens.

  • Over 150 complete dinosaur skeletons have been discovered in DPP.

  • Many millions of years ago the area was a lush sub-tropical forest.

  • The park has a nice self-guided easy loop that can be walked or driven in your own vehicle.

  • DPP contains a number of other trails into the heart of the terrain that can be easily followed on foot.

  • Guided tours of the park and fossil digs can be booked in advance of visitors' arrival dates.

  • The park does not have an address - enter these coordinates in a GPS device >> Latitude: 50.7537  Longitude: -111.528

  • The park sits beside the Red Deer River in a water carved valley surround by prairie grasslands above the valley rim.

 

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