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.
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.
The plants that grow in the area are extremely hardy. Look for prickly pear cactus, prairie crocus, juniper, sagebrush, broomweed and gumbo primrose.
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
- A Visit to Southern Alberta’s Castle Provincial Park
- 5 Great Things to do in the Crowsnest Pass Area
- 3 Southern Alberta Provincial Parks That Should be on Your Radar
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