4km return from campground / 4.4km return from Visitor Center
The southeast corner of Alberta is a land of big skies and endless prairies. Check that, the prairies do end, and that’s what wonderful about the Canadian Badlands.You can be driving for hours on arrow straight rows only to come across a dip in the road that opens into a wide canyon of hoodoos, coulees, rivers, and trees. Put up with the long boring prairie drive, and you’ll greatly rewarded once you descend into the badlands.
The day we visited the Hoodoo Trail at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park was not typical. A dense, misty fog covered the road with visibility limited to barely 100m.
It was an unusual wet and muddy day in the badlands, and so our guided hike into the preserve was cancelled. Instead, the Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park Visitor Center offered to bus us to Police Lookout at the end of the Hoodoo Trail giving us a chance to take the hike, but only have to do one wet, muddy direction.
The path on this hike is very narrow. It’s more like a single track mountain bike path than a hiking trail. You’ll need good shoes, and there’s no chance you can do this with a stroller. The trail is not only narrow, but it squeezes through tight hoodoos and climbs and falls along the cliff.
The hoodoos are spectacular. Even on our rainy, cold, and wet day, I still marveled at their ancient shapes.
Zacharie and I wandered along checking out cacti, listening for birds, keeping our eyes peeled for snakes. (Our day was too cold, but Z did get to hold a rattle in the Visitor Center, and a hot summer day might find them poking around)
Along the Hoodoo Trail you’ll have the chance to spot 2 petroglyphs and a pictograph. These aren’t ancient caveman drawings, they are only 150 years old or so. Pictographs are paintings on rock, using ochre and charcoal to produce shades of red and black, and applied with sticks or fingers. Petroglyphs are carvings made in the rock with tools made of bone, rock and wood.
The Battle Scene (above) is the prized petroglyph at Writing-on-Stone. It’s hidden behind a fence, with small holes for your camera. Depending on the angle of the sun, you may (or may not) be able to see the art depicting a large battle between men on horses and a small encampment. Historians have speculated that the scene may refer to a battle between the Peigan and the Gros Ventres in 1866, or the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876.
The graffiti above the rock art, however, is clearly visible. It’s a shame. Damaging any cultural resource, including rock art, may result in a $50,000 fine and a one-year jail sentence.
Our day at Writing-on-Stone was cold, wet, and gray. We did the hike, saw the petroglyphs, and hobbled amongst the hoodoos, but we didn’t see all this park has to offer. We didn’t get to see the Sweetgrass Hills across the border in Montana. We missed a sidetrail to see the pictographs.We didn’t play at the beach in the campground. We didn’t get into the archeological preserve.
We scratched the surface of this wondrous corner of Alberta. I’m heading back next summer. I can’t wait.