Ken Bell Photography - Red Rock Coulee

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Red Rock Coulee

Red Rock Coulee is in the Medicine Hat area of Alberta. Drive southwest of Medicine Hat on Highway 3 and just before the village of Seven Persons you will see secondary highway 887 to Manyberries. Go south on highway 887 until you come to the road sign to Red Rock coulee, an Alberta natural area. This unique coulee has exposed sandstone concretions that are some of the largest of their kind in all of North America. The iron in the rocks gives them their reddish color, which is saturated intensely toward sunset. Looking south from the top of the coulee you can see all the way to the Sweetgrass Hills in Montana, more than 80 kilometers away! Along with the interesting exposed rocks you will find an incredible variety of prairie wildflowers, along with prairie inhabitants such as deer, coyotes, rabbits, rattle snakes, and nighthawks. Walk softly and stick to the trails to reduce the impact on this fragile eco system.

   coulee          predawn          large boulder          split rock          rock1          rock 2

Overview of Coulee      Predawn with moon       Largest Boulder              Split Rock               Rock and sage        Rock and wildflowers

Sunset and Post Sunset

Walking through the coulee you will see so many incredible examples of these sandstone rocks that it is almost overwhelming. In the late afternoon and evening the show gets even better though. The coulee faces west - southwest, and as the sun sets the rich red of the rocks is enhanced in the evening glow. It is almost as though you are on Mars. After the sun has set we have waited then used flashlights to paint light onto the rocks, using either white or red flashlights. The effect and resulting shots are spectacular as you can see below.

   afternoon cloud          mars          red rock          sunset           painted rock           painted rock2

  Afternoon clouds          Martian scene          Red rock at sunset            Sunset             Rock Painted with light  Rock Painted with light 2

Prairie Wildflowers

June is a great time to visit this coulee. I have spent full days wandering among the rocks or walking on the top of the coulee, where you will find many varieties of prairie wildflowers. I have photographed pincushion and prickly pear cactus in bloom, showing their waxy yellow, orange or purple flowers. Globemallow is in abundance here as well. There is also crocus, evening primrose, sage, bluebells and other wildflowers interspersed among the native prairie grasses. It is fun taking macro photographs of these beautiful flowers while waiting for the evening sunset...

   flower1          flower2          flower3          flower4           flower5           flower6

     Globemallow               Prickly Pear                 Primrose               Pincushion Cactus              Bluebell                      Crocus 


September 2009

On my way back from Saskatchewan I made a point to spend an evening at Red Rock Coulee again. I was glad I did even though the sun was obscured by a low cloud on the horizon as it set. I managed to get some good shots in spite of the cloud. I wanted to include the first shot of the sign board to give everyone a bit of an idea what the place is all about. There are a few interesting small coulees to explore, along with just wandering among the rocks, watching how the light brings out their red colors. A closeup of the rock reveals the many interesting patterns created by the lichen that clings to the rock. Lichen grows extremely slowly so I try never to touch any of it on the rocks.

   sign          circle          lichen          clouds           clouds2           fractured

    Entrance sign              Circular rock                  Lichen                Rocks and clouds      More rocks and clouds       Fractured rock 

I tend to find old favorites, but try not to get into a rut where I only photograph the same ones all the time. One or two, like the muffin shaped rock or the one that is split like an orange, are ones I always have to check out. Of course challenging the rocks for my attention is the incredible sunsets that can also occur. The color is simply amazing!

   delta          muffin          split          moonrock           orange           sunset2

    Interpretation                Muffin                     Pieces                    Rock and moon                 Orange                      Sunset II 


March 2012

I looked forward to seeing Red Rock Coulee this March. I wondered if there would be a lot of snow but there was very little. Only small pockets remained in shallow depressions. Under some rocks there was water from the thawing winds that came up shortly after I arrived. While it was quite windy, it was a Chinook wind from the west that soon sent the temperature to 17 C. I was careful walking in the damp spots because the soil is very slippery when wet. I started by heading straight south along the top of the hill to where the greatest abundance of rocks are. I took several panorama images and later stitched them together. After getting a global overview I started making my way down the slope to get closeups of the rocks.

   cluster          sage          another            valley                  dark                  disk

        Cluster                    Sage grass              Another muffin            Valley rocks                 Dark rock                   Slipped disk


There are so many rocks it is amazing. It is fun to explore around, looking for clusters of rocks and different angles to photograph them from. Sometimes the best view of them was not in the best light, so I had to settle for changing position or simply moved on. While getting shots of groups or clusters I tried to keep a part of the surrounding landscape in the picture to show how barren this area is, and what great views there are looking south and west, all the way to Montana. As I walked among the rocks I would also take closeups to show sage or grass growing on the rocks, and the bright orange patterns created by lichen. I also tried to find rocks that appeared to have a specific shape. The most common were ones that looked like bowling balls or muffins. After exploring around the nature area for several hours I finally decided to take a break. I figured I would come back later for the sunset, but to my disappointment it clouded over. I consoled myself by going to Ralph's Texas Bar and Steakhouse in Medicine Hat for a really good steak supper instead. All in all it was a great day in southeast Alberta.

   snow          rolling          sentinel          destiny           elements           lichen

          Snow                    Rolling rock                 Sentinel                Erosion and ice            Shattered rock              Lichen rock 


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