Over the years, I have visited the hoodoos in Alberta’s Badlands on several occasions. These quirky columns of sand and stone seem to beckon travelers as though calling for company. The largest, most impressive cluster of hoodoos is only a 15-minute drive east of Drumheller on Highway 10 but others can be found scattered throughout the area.
Using rock and sand deposited 70-75 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period together with clay formed from ancient volcanic ash, Mother Nature has sculpted these odd obelisks with wind, water and frost as her tools. Beginning with a base of shale, the pillars are formed from sand capped in stone. The caprocks are quite tough and contain calcite cement, but the pillars below are remarkably fragile and erode as much as one centimeter each year. In France, such formations are known as fairy chimneys, a term which I think describes them well.
The Blackfoot and Cree believed these pillars were giants immobilized during the day but coming alive at night to hurl stones at any intruders trying to harm the people in the area – a tale which brilliantly captures the wonderful combination of vulnerability and strength found in the hoodoos.
A plaque at the site says that the term ‘hoodoo’ means “to arouse resentment and to practice retribution’ in the Hausa language of West Africa and is a type of folk magic. Personally, I think it much more likely that the word given to the rock formations in Alberta’s Badlands is derived from ‘voodoo’ since the first Europeans in the area were alarmed by the strange-looking shapes and worried that they were the result of some sort of evil magic or ‘voodoo’.
No matter how the word was derived, it certainly suits these sand sculptures. Standing in this valley of rounded clefts with its layers of sedimentary rock and sand undulating around you like ripples in a river, you can almost hear the wind whisper as it passes through these pillars, ‘hoooo doooo’.
Walking platforms and pathways have been placed throughout main hoodoo formations and visitors are asked to remain on them to help preserve these irreplaceable landmarks. There are also interpretative plaques with information on the landscape and plant life. The more adventurous can hike along dirt paths that lead throughout the canyon to the ridges above. Be careful if it rains as the bedonite clay in the area can get very slippery when it is wet.