Red Rock Coulee offers a unique hiking experience over the bottom of an ancient sea bed southwest of Medicine Hat, Alberta.
Red Rock Coulee Natural Area is a special hiking experience located south and west from Medicine Hat just slightly past the middle of nowhere. Highway 3 travels southwest from Medicine Hat towards Seven Persons. Highway 887 is a clearly signed turn south to the Red Rock Coulee Natural Area just prior (east of) to arrival at the infamous hamlet of Seven Persons, where the historic, horizon-piercing grain elevator marks the location of the locally and internationally acclaimed Premium Sausage Inc. plant and retail outlet which draws traveler's locally and from around the world.
The fascinating Red Rock Coulee Natural Area is 27 km (16⅞ miles) and about half an hour south on Highway 887. The unique and naturally aesthetic area is a remnant of an ancient sea bottom. Scattered, red, sandstone boulders, ranging in size from a meter (3 feet) to 2.5 meters (8¼ feet) in diameter, provide clear evidence of original sea shell deposits coated with multiple layers of sediment deposit.
Paved road travels due south past the rural and rustic Red Rock Community Park prior to a pronounced swing east where the clearly signed and ongoing straight gravel road leads directly to the small, cul-de-sac parking area for Red Rock Coulee Natural Area. Symmetrical boulders to the right at roadside announce imminent arrival. There is a large, colorful sign near an opening in the cattle fence for investigation of the most commonly visited features. Entire Natural Area borders are defined by perimeter cattle fences to discourage trespassing onto private land.
Dry ground is essential. Navigation on wet ground is a serious mistake on slippery and clinging, clay-like soil. A walking tour of the unique and over-trodden area near parking provides the opportunity to view the concretions created long ago over many centuries by accumulated deposit of minerals on seashells at the bottom of an ancient sea. The matrix of trail provides access to spectacular views of nearby coulees and distant vistas of gullies and canyons accessible by sketchy trails possibly used nocturnally more by animals than humans.
This is rattlesnake country, so care and attention is expedient. Know how to behave. It is highly unlikely there will be an encounter but their usually distinctive rattle will likely first be heard announcing their proximity. Stop. Locate. Move quietly and deliberately away for another more circuitous route towards your objective. A bit of respect is justifiable. Know what to do.
Sketchy trail ramps down gradually through nearby coulees for another spectacular Badland experience. The sight and scent of brightly blooming wildflowers augment the fragrance and vision of flowing-in-the-breeze grassland. Dry trail winds its way back and forth across wet drainage from a recent rain event.
A wide variety of colorful grass, cacti and wildflowers morphs into dramatic vistas of beautifully stark and eroding canyon walls.
Coulee drainage leads to expansive terrain surrounded by picturesque Badland cliffs clearly identifying their unique time lapse layers of development over many thousands of years. Current erosion perpetuates change and development which continually reveals new and long hidden treasures. Tufts of brightly colored plant life inconceivably thrive in seemingly impossible terrain and conditions.
Virtually endless opportunity to roam and explore is truncated only by time available. An alternate coulee is chosen for return via a circuitous ascent route to the original hiking trail beginning. Long vistas, even within coulees, make navigation easy and sure. The ramp up to beginning altitude continues on sketchy trail where occasional footsteps are chosen to avoid small obstacles.
The original elevation is made more obvious by re-emergence of variably sized and smooth-surfaced oblong stones. This day is further blessed with bright sunshine tempered by gentle and cooling breeze wafting graciously through the grass-filled channels. There is no-one else here on this day. Red Rock Coulee Natural Area belongs to me on this very special and spectacular day. A companion would serve as a sensible safety benefit and social component at the expense of the personal relationship with natural elements and features.
Many impressive boulders lay atop the ground. Others remain largely buried to be revealed in their entirety for the benefit of future generations. There appears to be evidence of vandalism where layered rock has been shattered and broken. Such is sadly the price of being located remotely without supervision. High resolution video surveillance and delicate ground sensors may someday help in reducing vandalism at the expense of slightly compromising the natural experience.
This special place is a place of spiritual and photographic bliss. Light and shadow dance among wildflowers and natural sculpture. The breeze creates an accompanying symphony of relaxing sound.
Return to the entrance at Red Rock Coulee Natural Area crosses a grassland plateau with spectacular long views past barrier cattle fence. There is a picnic table near the entrance with incredible 360 vistas of this unique natural area and surrounding farm and ranch land. Perhaps the greatest hazard is a lethal dose of incredibly fresh prairie air and sun. Bring, carry and drink water.
Return north past the isolated and rural Red Rock Community Park on Hwy 887 arrives where Highway 3 will turn southwest for photos of nearby Premium Sausage in the picturesque hamlet of Seven Persons before continuing the more lengthy drive west and south to the Town of Milk River in Alberta near the center, and a few minutes north of the border towns of Coutts, Alberta and Sweetgrass, Montana, USA.
This adventure continues with a hiking motivated visit to a small, fairly remote, provincial park packed with unique features at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park and Áísínai’pi National Historic Site in southern Alberta, Canada.
Photographs at Red Rock Coulee are taken on Sunday, September 17, 2017 en route from Maple Creek via Medicine Hat to fascinating hiking adventures within Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park near Milk River in Alberta, Canada.