Nature photographer Robert Berdan states on his website that “It offers one of the most unusual landscapes you will see anywhere and if there wasn’t any grass you could just as well be visiting Mars.”
While in Medicine Hat visiting my brother Michael, he suggested that Red Rock Coulee would be an interesting sight to see. I lived in Medicine Hat for ten years and had never heard of the place, so it’s been a closely held secret.
The red rocks themselves are bedazzling, but this little excursion was full of other wonderful surprises, too.
The land is normally very dry, but a recent spring snowfall had dumped a lot of moisture on the area, and many flowers were in bloom including primroses, beardtongue, and buffalo beans. The primroses are white, but when wilted, they turn pink.
Prickly pear cactus were common and the juniper was ubiquitous, as was three-flowered avens. We even saw a patch of wild strawberries in flower.
One lonely saskatooon bush was in full bloom. Well, maybe not so lonely: there were dozens of bees humming around it.
Off in the distance, over 100 kilometres away, the Sweetgrass Hills of Montana were clearly visible.
The rocks themselves are mostly “flying-saucer” shaped, but some have eroded into flat disks which could double as a dinner table. Others, subject to the forces of nature over millenia, have broken into odd shapes and sizes.
Suddenly we were startled by a loud and unusual sound behind us. We turned around and saw… nothing! Only when it moved did we realize that we had almost stepped on a rattlesnake! This created a lot of excitement. Michael has encountered many rattlers, but this was a first for me.
I guess we’re cut from the same cloth, because my brother said he was going to return and pick up the garbage which was laying mostly around the trailhead. I can’t stand to see trash on the ski trails. It’s not a big problem, but occasionally I encounter a power bar wrapper or hair elastic in the snow.
I’ve been hearing about the decline of prairie songbirds, so I was excited to see dozens of meadowlarks on the fence posts as we drove out, and to hear their well-known song. It took me back to my childhood days in Saskatchewan when I saw and heard a meadowlark every morning in the springtime. As I walked up the driveway to catch the schoolbus, the meadowlark was perched on top of a telephone pole singing his heart out.
As we were returning, I spotted the fastest land animal in North America, a pronghorn. Learning about these animals is the reason why I’ve come to detest fences.
Red Rock Coulee is about a 45-minute drive southwest of Medicine Hat. It’s not a place where my usual readers would normally visit, but if you’re going east this summer, it would be a worthwhile detour.