Photo Ventures: My Solo Trip To The Badlands Part #1

Getting out of your usual routine can do wonders.

I did an article a while back on Inspiration and Opportunity. In that article, I mentioned how planning a simple day trip can really help give kick to stagnant creativity. These day trips can either be photographically focused, or you can leave your camera at home and immerse yourself in new surroundings. While a little day trip can be so beneficial, how much more so could a full weekend shooting solo be?

Back in August, I had a rare opportunity to take a weekend trip completely centered around photography, and completely solo. I’ve been to the rocky mountains numerous times and I’ll never get tire of them, but I wanted to take this opportunity to try some where different.

Destination: Alberta Badlands

The Badlands of Alberta was a place I’ve been wanting to explore for a long time, but for some reason I just never did. It had been a long time since I was there last and even then, it was very brief. I couldn’t really remember what it was like except from a few pictures I had seen of my friends visiting the area, so it was here that I was heavily considering.

These badlands are located in the southeastern part of the province, consisting of canyons and prairie. They stretch from east of Calgary to the Saskatchewan, and all the way down into the States border.

It’s a massive portion of Alberta that is dense with fossils and was heavily mined for its coal. Where once was subtropical land in the cretaceous period, now is fertile prairies that drop into canyons and coulees that show us years of erosion.

Something I wasn’t expecting, was how far these badlands were from my house. I obviously knew where they were within the province, but I never considered how long it would take to get there. While I’ve been to the Rockies countless times, and even done many a day trip to them, they’re a good 4hour drive one way.

Planning my route to Drumheller (a town within the badlands), I realized they were only a mere 2 1/2 hour drive! For someone who doesn’t like driving much, that’s a decent bit of road: but for me, I love a good drive.

Scouting Before My Trip

A week prior to my trip, I thought I should at least go and scope it out first. Seeing at it was only 2 1/2 hours drive, it made it easy to run out there for an afternoon on Sunday to check it out.

The long endless prairies you have to drive through to get there make you feel like your heading into the middle of nowhere: but suddenly, the landscape drops into a beautiful canyon, making it seem otherworldly.

It’s pretty astonishing how quickly the landscape can change. Unlike the Rockies where you see them an hour before you reach them, you don’t see these canyons coming. The landscape changes so rapidly into this ravine it can almost catch you by surprise if you’re not expecting it.

On this little scout, I brought my Canon AE-1 loaded with Ektar 100 and my Yashica A loaded with HP5. Wanting to see the results as soon as possible, I really tried to shoot up both rolls in order to see what I could expect from the upcoming weekend. The results made me extremely excited for a full 3 days to myself, with the sole purpose of taking pictures.

I got there around 4:30pm and being summer, I knew I had daylight for a good 5-6hours. This gave me plenty  of time to do some quick hiking around Midland Provencial Park, Horse Thief Canyon and explore the town.

Something that stood out to me in the badlands was all the amazing textures. With so much rock, dead grass and scraggly shrubs, it’s an ideal place for black and white. HP5, with it’s lovely grain suited the landscape perfectly for this.

While I enjoyed focusing on all the lovely texture with black and white, I became aware of the excellent opportunities I would have come golden hour. For this, I was extremely thankful to have Ektar loaded in my AE-1.

After being there for a gorgeous summer evening and seeing the results from the 2 rolls I shot, there was no doubt in my mind that this was the ideal place to spend 3 days shooting solo.

Cameras? Film?

Well, here was the big question – what cameras should I take, and what film? For cameras, I don’t exactly have a huge selection, so it wasn’t too hard to choose. But in the end, I decided to take my Yashica A, Canon AE-1, and my Minolta X-700 for a backup SLR.

For film, that was a much tougher decision. Most people get hung up on what cameras to big on an outing, but for me, I always struggle with what film to load into my camera. I have an overflowing supply of expired film that I think would have been really interesting in the setting, but I ended up not taking any of it (perhaps a project for another day).

For black and white, I had various different film stocks. I’ve mentioned before in a past article that telling the difference between black and white film stocks is like cappuccinos, lattes and flat whites. However, I still get hung up when deciding on which one to load into my camera, and much more for bringing on a solo trip. In the end, I just dumped a pile of film into a bag, and I’d figure it out when I got there.

The roll count of my trip turned out to be; 4 rolls of Kodak Portra 400 35mm, 3 rolls of Kodak Tri-x 35mm, 3 rolls of Ilford HP5 120, 2 rolls of Ilford FP4 120, 1 roll of Kodak Ektar 120, 1 roll of Kodak Ektar 35mm, and 1 roll of expired Kodak Portra 800 120. I certainly had several other films with me, but these were the ones I felt safest with and I wasn’t disappointed.

3 Day Weekend In The Badlands

My original plan was to car-camp the whole weekend, but I ended up just booking a hotel room in Drumheller for 3 nights. I left right after work on Friday and when I got to the hotel, I was so glad to have a bed to sleep in rather than a sleeping bag.

I’ve always felt that one of my favorite parts of a trip when flying somewhere is that initial take off of the plane. Even while packing or driving to the airport, I can’t help but feel that any minute will bring a phone call that can cancel the whole thing – but once you’re in the air, there’s no turning back.

That’s how I felt when I was there in my hotel room. Of course, being only 2 1/2 hours away from my front door, it’s not like it was impossible to turn around and go home, but it was the same feeling that came over me. I had a trip planned, and I was there to see it through.


Drumheller is a charming town to stay in while on such a trip. It is, of course, the biggest town in the area and has all the conveniences you might need when you’re traveling solo. Being in the middle of a Dino hotspot, the town has fully embraced the cretaceous connection with dinosaur statues dotted all over and prides itself as being home to the largest T-Rex in the world: even their Starbucks is proud of their prehistoric ties.

One aspect I love about the town – and towns in the surrounding area – is how they’ve built the town around the landscape. Rather than blasting and dozing these amazing eroded hills out of the way, they build neighborhoods right against it, squeezing in where they can: even a Walmart parking lot.

From the town, there are countless little roads that lead off into the coulees where one could spend days exploring them all. While the town itself is beautiful and intriguing in its own quirky way, its setting is one that truly fascinates me: you can easily forget you’re still in Alberta.

End Of Part #1

So I spent 3 full days out there and drove home on Monday evening. It’s a place where I could have easily spent more time exploring and have full intentions to do so next year.

I tried to squeeze this whole trip into one article, but I have so many photos and so much to say, I figured I might as well do 2 parts. In next article, I’ll be talking more about where I went, what I was drawn to take photos of, and how the towns and the landscape really struck me.

I hope you enjoyed this first part! Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for Part #2!


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