Photo Ventures: My Solo Trip To The Badlands, Part #2
I didn’t really have a plan…
All I knew, was I had 3 days to myself in the badlands: I was able to drive and go as far as I wanted, take as many backroads and u-turns as I chose, and park somewhere for a nap if I needed. The schedule was all mine.
So I did my best to take advantage of this by…. not having a schedule. After breakfast I would check my maps to gauge a direction, but once I hit the road, it was all open. That said, one thing I really wanted to do was some hiking.
Just north of Drumheller, there’s the Midland Provincial Park. It’s a large portion of this beautiful region where you can go hiking and exploring all to your heart’s content. I left my hotel room a bit later than I would have preferred that first morning, but after finishing my coffee, I went to the park for a brief hike.
I didn’t take as many photos here as I thought I would. Spending most of my time soaking everything in and watching my footing, I didn’t feel the need to pull the camera out too often. It was good to just enjoy being out on a gorgeous sunny day getting some exercise and looking for fossils.
Once I got back to my car, it was time to hit the road and start covering some serious ground. The badlands are massive, with so many aspects to explore, so I cut my hike a bit short to see all I could in my 3days I was there.
Rural Communities In The Badlands
I ended the last article talking about how Drumheller is the largest town in the area, but it’s certainly not the only. Dotted all around are small, and unnoticed communities that nestle themselves throughout this unique landscape. While Drumheller has the hotels and a McDonald’s, these towns might a corner store or the remnants there of.
Photographing these rural establishments is nothing new, but it’s new to me. Usually, I shoot typical landscapes in the country or in the city: but these towns have so much character and intrigue about them, it makes me want to do nothing but photograph them. I think they’re beautiful.
I suppose it can be a bit clichè to take pictures of the old, decaying towns, but there’s truly something so attractive about them. They’re like time capsules of the past: a place you can go and find little pieces of history. They hang around, rather than get demolished to make room for the new.
Living in the outskirts of Edmonton, I never feel like I’m “in the middle of nowhere” but for some of these towns, they truly are. I love imagining what it would be like living in some of these places, hours from the big city, hours from social messes. Sometimes – these days, more than ever – I would love to get away from the city and live out here where it’s simple. Perhaps that’s why I’ve enjoyed photographing these towns so much.
Again, with the textures. A bit of a buzz word in photography perhaps, but texture can be so important when you’re really trying to add feeling into your photos. While textures can be great in color, I think it’s best for black and white film – particularly a grainy one.
As I said in the previous post, I was struck by all the incredible textures throughout the badlands. It’s a rugged landscape, and the nature which thrives there is equally so. Not only is nature in this region rough and tough, but so are the towns.
While you may see these towns as rundown and in disrepair, I feel they’re fitting for their geographical situation. They would seem a bit out of place if they were polished and shiny as would befit a city. Their wabi sabi charm make them beautiful to photograph.
These communities weather the harsh, dry, desert-like climates day in, day out, year after year. Also – as hard as it is to believe – we’re still in Canada. Not only do these communities endure high temperatures in the summer, but they brave the Canadian winters as well. It’s no wonder these places really show signs of age.
While generally I look to black and white for shooting textures, a good expired color negative can be excellent as well. Back when I acquired my Yashica A, along with it came a roll of expire Portra 800. Being a high speed film, I knew that it probably wouldn’t have held up as well as the lower speeds. Having only one roll, I held onto it for the right time – this trip seemed to be it.
Beyond The Coulee
I mentioned before how these canyons seem to drop out of no where. Surrounding them are vast endless prairies and rolling hills that, while seemingly empty and bleak, are quite beautiful and peaceful. These prairies extend over a huge portion across central Canada with little special nuggets through out such as the canyons where I spent 3days totally solo.
I’ve driven through these prairies once before and was completely taken by their vastness and how incredibly small they make you feel. Much like the grand Rocky Mountains, they reveal what a speck on creation you really are, but in their own way.
These prairies make the coulees and canyons feel so dramatic as, again, they drop down into the landscape so suddenly. Because of this, it was so exciting to take every side road I could find, not knowing where with may lead: even as you climb out of the ravine, you’re met with these majestic plains, so contrasting the landscape you just left.
Adding to the dramatic effect is the height of these prairies are from the bottom of the canyon: reaching the top of the coulee, you can see out for days. When looking down onto the communities within the canyon, you get a sense of how large and otherworldly this landscape is. It’s so easy to forget you’re still in Alberta.
Navigating The Vastness
The landscape is so vast, and you can see so far, that it can be difficult to tell how far something really is. It can be geographically confusing when you see something in the distance, and you’re referring to your Google maps in how to get there.
At the top of the canyon on the east side, I saw far in the distance some windmills. Well… as a film photographer in the badlands, you can imagine I was desperate to make it there. I drove as fast as I dared down the gravel roads, down the slope I was on, and up the otherside. I could see them! But how on earth do I get to them?
Panic was setting in as a storm was coming and the skies in the distance were black as could be. Strangely, it was still bathed in bright sunlight where I was, creating a gorgeous contrast in scenery which was extremely hard to photograph. But I pulled over tried anyway.
Ok… Back on the road. I checked my maps and gazed upon the grand windmills in the distance. I had to fight the urge to lick my finger and stick in the air… that wouldn’t help. Sure this winding road would take me there? I drove and drove, hoping to get to them before the storm came in too hard.
At least I had one more day in my trip, so if I didn’t make it in time, I’d know how to reach them for tomorrow. So on I pressed curving through gravel roads – they seemed to get further away… Rechecking my maps, I was confident I was on the right track. The road turned in the right direction up ahead.
Finally making progress as I was heading directly towards them, I slowly began to feel disoriented again. While I was heading towards them, they still seemed unreachable. They appeared as if they were several range roads over yet still seemed so huge, how could I still be so far?
Eventually, I reached them. I’ve never seen windmills in-person before: and now that I was here, I was taken back by how massive they were. This will probably strike some people funny if you’re use to seeing them, but for being my first time, I was in awe.
The storm managed completely swing around me, and the sun continued to shine on these massive structures. Standing in these wide endless fields, they’re incredible representations of the ingenuity of man’s ability of manufacturing.
I remember as a kid, they would drive the blades of windmills through the town on huge trailers. I was always amazed at how long they’re, spanning multiple car lengths. Even though I saw them constantly delivering parts for these monstrosities, I had never actually seen one. Finding these windmills out here was a pretty cool experience.
And that about wraps all I’ve got for my 3day weekend. I still have many, many photos from that trip that you will continue to see in articles to come, and I have every intention on going back for more come spring.
I find myself continually going back to these photos. They are some of my favorite that I’ve taken in a long time, and I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity to have gone there. I’m so thankful to be living so close to such an incredible place. There’s so much about the badlands that I can’t really put into words. It’s a pretty special place and I highly recommend anyone to go there and see it for themselves.
I hope you enjoyed this 2 part article as much as I did! Let me know what you think, and hopefully I will be able to do more of these in the future. Thanks for reading.