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Site Profile: A Recipe for Hoodoos


They look improbable, these pillars of rock, as though wrought less by nature's blind forces than by some discerning intelligence. An eccentric intelligence, mind you, but an intelligence nonetheless. With toadstool caps over stalwart torsos, they appear slightly anthropomorphic as they straddle the parched badlands landscape. Small wonder some of the first Albertans imagined them to be petrified giants who awoke in the night with mischief on their minds.

And small wonder, too, the name "hoodoo" became attached to these fantastic geological formations in the post-contact period. Hoodoo is kin to the word voodoo, which is West African in origin. Established as a religious practice in the New World via the slave trade, voodoo/hoodoo, to European minds, was sinister and magical, a fitting moniker for the bizarre outcroppings in such places as the Milk River and Red Deer River Valleys and along the slope of Tunnel Mountain in Banff.

But strange as they appear, hoodoos come about in quite simple fashion:

Take several thick layers of rock.

Make sure the top layer is much more durable than the underlying layers. (Ironstone, say, topping sandstone.)

Add erosion.

And, voila, you have a hoodoo.

Wind and water much more easily eat away at the sandstone, leaving a column of this less durable rock, protected by a strong caprock of ironstone. Without the protective cap, the hoodoo pillar would much more quickly erode. But erode it does, eventually. At some point in a hoodoo's life, the capstone comes crashing down, and disintegration of the pillar accelerates in the wind and rain, until finally, in the fullness of geological time, nothing but a stump remains.

Sad really.

But the good news is that fresh ones are always being formed in the badlands valleys. Unfortunately, they take longer than you and I likely have years to witness the creation.

Reprinted from Barbara Huck and Doug Whiteway's In Search of Ancient Alberta with kind permission from Heartland Associates, Inc.

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