The abandoned Atlas Coal Mine on the Hoodoo Trail in the Drumheller Valley turned out to be unexpectedly cool. I’m not usually one for tours but this site is pretty unique and we couldn’t quite pass it up, especially once we learned that these tours are what funds the maintenance and restoration of the site. They receive no funding from any level of government, despite being a national historic site.
The special tour we got on account of it being a long weekend (and discounted on account of miserable weather) included a tipple tour, a train ride, a pony ride, and the unmentionables tour. The history of the mine is pretty impressive. When it closed, they more or less picked up and left, without really packing anything up. Wandering around the site is like stepping back in time.
Atlas Coal Mine has the last wooden tipple left in the country. That’s the tall wooden structure towering over the site where coal coming out of the tunnels was processed. Now it looks like an old, haunted amusement ride.
This is where we learned about the “special” Wildfire brand coal, which was wildly successful because of a simple marketing trick. It was, in fact, the very same coal the mine already produced but painted with orange paint. People swore is burned hotter. The power of suggestion.
You also get great views of the site from 210 feet up. Surrounded by the badlands, the view is pretty surreal and well worth the climb.
The unmentionables tour covers daily life at the mine, including ghost stories, accidents, living conditions, and prostitution. It is thoroughly entertaining and quite educational. The term “chicken delight” has a whole new meaning for me now.
As part of this tour, you get to tour all the service buildings on site and there are so many cool finds around every corner, it makes your head spin.
We didn’t end up going on the train ride, or the pony ride. It was getting late in the day and we still had another stop to make before calling it a day. Plus the weather was getting to me and I longed for the comfort of the car and its heated seats. Even without the rides, the visit was well worth the price of admission and we left happy to have stopped by.
As a side note, wandering around the site is a photographer’s dream. There are colours and textures around every corner, and I lost count of the incredibly photogenic period machinery, furniture, and accessories I kept coming across. It is worth the trip just to go take some pictures.
If you are lucky enough to be in the area n Halloween, I hear it’s an extra special time to visit. So are long weekends, when you get a special admission price on packaged tours. You can learn more about their tours and special events here.