#CCR – Dinosaur Trail

Words: Brian Goldstone

It is nice to know areas still exist where we can ride without concern and focus solely on rhythm, breathing, and taking in the surroundings.

Western Canada’s diverse landscapes include rugged rainforest rising straight from the Pacific ocean, high alpine peaks producing some of North America’s biggest snowfalls, arid desert peppered with lakes and orchards, and visually endless prairie land.

Well-hidden within that diversity is an often forgotten area 90 km east of Calgary known as the Canadian Badlands. Visiting them is like stepping back in time, into the days of pioneers and the coal mining era. The landscape is dotted with rustic ranches, ghost towns, hoodoo rock formations, coulees and ravines. Look away from the roads, and you can imagine yourself on the face of the moon or some other planet – this is where dinosaurs roamed over 70 million years ago.

The plan for our ride was to follow the Dinosaur Trail that looped through Horsethief Canyon, crossing the Red Deer River via ferry before making our way to the small ghost towns of Wayne and Dorothy. The 130 km-ish route proved more challenging than we originally expected.

Rolling out to light rain, a first in a summer defined by wildfires and smoky skies, the cooler air was a pleasant change. The roads were virtually void of any cars or tourists as we rode northeast, steadily climbing above the Red Deer River. The river opened up to a wide expanse of farmland and grain mills to our left, while the deep canyon to our right showcased the different shades of red that were unique to this area of Alberta. Above us was the ever-present ‘big sky’ of Alberta. Though overcast, there is nowhere that seems to open up to the horizon quite like the Prairies of Alberta.

Before long we descended back into the canyon, coming to an abrupt end point at the banks of the Red Deer River. A small ferry shuttled us across the ten minute crossing. The river, strong but calm, made little noise as we reached the other side and we quickly found ourselves climbing once more. We didn’t know exactly what to expect with respect to elevation change, and found ourselves a bit surprised to regularly encounter pitches of 9-15% in grade. They certainly woke the legs up, and by day’s end left them heavily fatigued.

Road surfaces were surprisingly well kept and smooth as we pedaled past Horsethief Canyon and the deep coulee below. Before long we completed the loop back to Drumheller and continued on to the ghost town of Wayne. We crossed ten bridges that spanned the snaking river below as we headed out to the once thriving town. Now inhabited by less than 30 residents, it was little more than a water stop. Towns like this were littered throughout this area, once vibrant from the coal mining industry.

As the rained cleared, an uncommon humidity changed the air. We rode out to our final checkpoint – a pioneer community called Dorothy. A grain mill and a stack of cabins from a time long passed were the main attraction in this town. The beauty of such rides are the empty roads and the timeless destinations. We had seen less than a dozen cars in the four plus hours we had been riding. It is nice to know areas still exist where we can ride without concern and focus solely on rhythm, breathing, and taking in the surroundings.

We rolled back into the car park in the early afternoon with just over 130 km on the clock. The towering statue of a Tyrannosaurus Rex dwarfed us as we packed the car to make our way home. Driving back across Alberta and BC we would see beautiful prairie, alpine, desert and rainforest in a single day.