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Red Rock Coulee – An Otherworldly Alberta Landscape

Red Rock Coulee – An Otherworldly Alberta Landscape

Red Rock Coulee Natural Area has an otherworldly feel to it. Littered with sandstone concretions, the red rocks measuring as much as 2.5 metres in diameter are formed naturally via the sediments they rest upon. The area is popular with geologists, photographers and hikers who don’t mind a lack of formal trails.

Welcome to Red Rock Coulee
Welcome to Red Rock Coulee

How the concretions start

First you need a natural occurring nucleus just like a pearl. A bone or shell works well. The concretions grow by the concentric deposition of minerals around the grains before it hardens into rock. The concentric rings can be seen in some concretions.

According to the sign at the parking lot “the process by which concretions are formed leaves them harder and more resistant to erosional forces than the surrounding material. When the parent material erodes the spheres are left exposed and then they in turn begin to erode.”

Around Red Rock Coulee the landscape here is strewn with concretions left behind after the softer rock eroded away. Look for the  beautiful lichens called Xanthoria that can withstand extremes of temperatures from -46°C to 42 °C.

Red Rock Coulee feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere

Accessed via Highway 887, 60 kilometres south of Medicine Hat, near Seven Persons in southeast Alberta, Red Rock Coulee is not really on the way to anywhere. On a clear day you can see Montana’s Sweet Grass Hills, about 100 kilometres away from the high point in the parking lot.

We decided to make a detour and hit it on the way back from Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park. Although we didn’t spend much time in the area, there would be some lovely hiking. Just carry lots of water. Try to time your visit for sunrise or sunset, when the rocks positively glow.

Boulders strewn across a prairie landscape
Boulders strewn across a prairie landscape
Colourful concretions at Red Rock Coulee
Colourful concretions at Red Rock Coulee
Hardy wildflowers
Hardy wildflowers
Beautiful lichen patterns on the rock
Beautiful lichen patterns on the rock
Hard to believe anything can grow in this dry soil
Hard to believe anything can grow in this dry soil

The plants that grow in the area are extremely hardy. Look for prickly pear cactus, prairie crocus, juniper, sagebrush, broomweed and gumbo primrose.

Flying saucer like rocks
Flying saucer like rocks
Close-up of a concretion
Close-up of a concretion

Wildlife you might see near Red Rock Coulee

Although we didn’t see any wildlife, it’s quite possible you’ll see mule deer, pronghorn antelope, white-tailed jack rabbits, bull snakes, rattlesnakes (give them space), short-horned lizards, and if you were very lucky – scorpions – as they are considered rare in Alberta.

It’s certainly worth making the detour to Red Rock Coulee if you’re nearby.

Further reading on things to do in southern Alberta

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

Red Rock Coulee - An Otherworldly Alberta Landscape

 

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 9 Comments
  1. If you are lucky you will see a scorpion. . . Nah somehow I’m guessing you were ok with not seeing one. Interesting looking spot though.

  2. I have seen these first hand and there specimens that are much closer to perfect spheres. very odd to see such a thing just sitting on the surface like it was just put there.

  3. I believe there is more at play then just wind erosion otherwise we would see these in other locations.I think they where formed from volcanic lava landing in deep water sort of the same way bird shot is made from lead. and for some reason they did not completely shatter

  4. […] Red Rock Coulee Natural Area sits out in the middle of seemingly nowhere, though it’s only 60 km from Medicine Hat. It’s a good place to see some of the world’s largest red rock sandstone concretions. There is also lots of hiking to do, but this is another area where there are no formal trails. Go prepared with lots of water and a sun hat, particularly if you visit in the summer. […]

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