Dinosaurs in White Rock Coulee: A Fall Hike in Southeast Alberta’s White Rock Coulee
September 22, 2022
A glorious day in the coulees along the South Saskatchewan River! Despite the oppressive heat, a spectacular discovery of dinosaur bones, a refreshing river dip, and the spectacular landscapes of Southeastern Alberta’s badlands made for a day to remember. Lindsey Wallis recounts this fascinating adventure, coordinated by Heinz and Kris Unger on September 3:
There was a heat warning in place for Medicine Hat as we gathered our group of 10 along Highway 41 and drove to the lip of the coulee. From the uplands we surveyed the river valley and Tako Koning, one of the geologists along on the trip described how the ground beneath us was from the Cretaceous period, when this area was terrestrial, as it is now. We also saw more history in the granite rocks dropped by retreating glaciers from the last ice age.
The temperature was quite pleasant as we headed into the coulee. Compared to the spring, when the coulee was lush and green, early September had given the landscape a more gold and ochre palate. Salt bush and prickly pear graced the steep coulee walls and, as we wended our way deeper, dramatic hoodoos rose above us. We passed a disused colony of cliff swallow nests as we dropped down towards the river, and the temperature began to soar.
Upon reaching the banks of the South Saskatchewan River the group found a shady refuge under the branches of a gnarled grandmother cottonwood tree for lunch. A couple folks (prompted by the 7 year old in the crowd) swam fully clothed in the river to cool off while others dunked various articles of clothing before heading back up the coulee.
On the way back the sun was intense and high in the sky. The coulee provided very little shade at this time of day. The group moved slowly, taking advantage of what little shade we could for rest stops. This turned out to be advantageous because, at one of these stops, we found a few fairly large shards of fossilized bone on the ground. Looking up, there was a tantalizing bit of white sticking out of the side of a hoodoo. A couple of the group scrambled up to get a better look, and it was quite a few more bits of bone (see photos below).
Photos of the find were submitted to the Tyrell museum in Drumheller where they confirmed, “Yes, what you have found are indeed dinosaur bones. Congratulations on the find. Based on what is visible in the photos, they appear to be the bones of an ornithischian dinosaur, probably a hadrosaur (duck-billed dinosaur) possibly ceratopsian (horned dinosaur). Given the concentration of bones it likely represents either an area where the bones of multiple animals have become concentrated, or a single scattered skeleton.”
Back at the top of the coulee, on the sun-baked prairie, we were grateful for the cool refreshments provided by Heinz. We enjoyed them in the shade provided by the vehicles, whose thermometers were reading 40C! Folks agreed that it was a physically challenging day, but thoroughly worthwhile!