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Pilons on the prairie

With a kitchen available to us we brought bits and pieces in from Morty to have for breakfast before heading out to Drumheller. There was a light layer of snow on the road and it was yet another very cold start.

We headed west to Red Deer on yet more long straight roads with oil derricks lined on either side and then turned south on the main route 2, also known as the Queen Elizabeth II highway. At the junction with route 72 we turned off east to Drumheller, again on long straight roads. The only village on this road was Beiseker. A few kilometres before we the village there was a small colony with signs outside saying "absolutely no tourists" and "enter at your risk".

I have googled to find out what it was all about. Seems the colony is one of the Hutterites, an anabaptist religious sect. Their origins stretch back to 1528 and the reformation and they came from Switzerland, Germany and the Tyrol. They operate on a community basis, with the community being run by the male elders. They certainly did not create a welcoming impression when we drove past.

At Beiseker we stopped for coffee. It is another small prairie town with a deserted feel where the only signs of life are in the corner shop cafe. We were eyed slightly with suspicion and I doubt they get many strangers here. As we got closer to Drumheller the landscape changed. What were wide open prairies became barren stretches of land similar to the altiplano we have seen in South America.

These are the Badlands of southern Alberta. Before we knew it we were suddenly dropping down into a big canyon, with the Red Deer river running along its bottom. The sides of the canyon reveal the different layers of rocks that have built up over millions of years from when this whole area was a huge sea.

Drumheller is much like many of the towns we have passed through. Most of the "action" is on a strip of malls outside the town centre. The downtown area seems to be pretty small. We had planned to stay at the Travelodge, just over the river, and got there just in time to get their last room. Seems that the hotels here are as busy as they are in Hinton with a mix of oilmen and the crew working on improving the roads into town. We were too early to actually get into the room so went to see some of the local sights.

Our first stop was Tourist Information in the downtown. It is hard to miss. A huge model of a Tyrannosaurus Rex stands outside in the car park, one of many dinosaur models that are dotted around town. If you want, you can climb up it and stand in its mouth but it was far too cold to do that this afternoon. There was a young local girl behind the desk and she confirmed what was open and worth seeing. She also

Hoodoos (what is a hoodoo?)

From here we headed out of town to follow the Hoodoo Trail. The road took us out past the site of the new Walmarts that is soon coming to town, another reason why all of the hotels are so busy. A few kilometres further on there is a turning off to Rosedale, an old mining village. The mine is on the other side of the river from town and the miners initially used to row across in boats. Later a line was strung across and the miners and their coal were hauled across on the line.

In 1931, a suspension bridge was built and was used until the mine closed in 1957. The bridge has been restored and is now open to anyone to cross but there are warnings not to walk on the slag heaps on the other side as they could still be burning and/or hide tunnels and holes.

It was freezing outside, we later found out that the wind-chill factor today made the temperature feel like -12C. The bridge swayed quite a bit as we walked on it. The river below was partly frozen with blocks of ice and all I could think about was how cold it would be if the bridge gave way. As we crossed the bridge the wind blowing down the river picked up and it was absolutely freezing, so cold that it made my face hurt. I gave up and turned around before we reached the end but Stef carried on to the other side of the river. It took us both a few minutes to warm up again once we were back in Morty.

Further down the route are the Hoodoos. These are strange rock pillars formed by wind and water erosion which reveal seventy million years of geological history within their layers. A sandstone layer sits on top helping to keep the pillars, but in time the erosion around their sides will cause them to collapse. The Hoodoos reminded us of the Balancing Rock on Digby Neck in Nova Scotia in that the pictures we have seen led us to expect something much bigger than they are in practice. That said, it was still quite unique walking around centuries old pillars of rock.

Again frozen we headed back to town and the warmth of our hotel room which was now available. We spent the rest of the day updating our website and doing other stuff before heading over the road for dinner. We went to a Greek restaurant and had a pretty authentic meal before crashing out for the night.