While in Ontario, visit Mars

Fog at the Cheltenham Badlands in Caledon, Ont. makes for an other-worldly photo. Photo credit: Victoria Marcelle

Now that fall is here, Durham College and UOIT students may feel inspired to get outside and take in some of that autumn foliage. But, have you ever considered visiting… Mars?

The Cheltenham Badlands in Caledon, one of Ontario’s most unusual geological attractions, has now re-opened after closing three years ago.

Social media and articles often describe it as looking similar to the planet Mars.

The Badlands are famous for their unique appearance due to their distinctive rust red colour caused from an iron rich stone and the soft stone’s susceptibility to erode and form grooves and gullies, says Kevin DeMille from Ontario Heritage Trust, the organization which oversees the Badlands.

“It’s a very unique feature. It’s rare in Ontario. You won’t find it in many locations. It has a natural red beauty which you don’t normally see. If you compared that to the colours in the fall, it really is a striking sight to see. There’s nothing [quite] like it,” says DeMille, adding the geological feature is composed of iron oxide known as Queenston Shale.

It is rare in Ontario because in most of the area the shale is protected from erosion by overlying rock, such as limestone or sandstone. The Badlands are located on an area that did not have the overlying stone. Without any protection, the weather naturally eroded the site, says DeMille.

The Ontario Heritage Trust says the area first formed at the base of an ancient sea more than 400 million years ago. It is one of the most recognizable and visited natural heritage landmarks in southern Ontario, the Trust’s website.

The Badlands re-opened Sept. 22 after being closed in June, 2015.

DeMille says before the site’s closure, it had an increased spike in popularity which led to many public safety and conservation issues. It caused a lot of traffic congestion on Olde Base Line Rd. and irreversible damage to the site.

“[With] thousands of people coming each year and walking on the feature, the Badlands were eroding at an exponential rate. We received a recommendation from a research team from the University of Toronto based on an erosion study to close the site,” says DeMille.

The Badlands are located at 1739 Olde Base Line Rd., Caledon, Ont., only an hour drive from Oshawa. All visitors are advised to stay off the grounds to avoid damage and erosion of the geological treasure.

“We don’t allow visitors on the Badlands feature anymore. You’ll be able to view the feature from an accessible board walk,” says DeMille.

The Badlands now has a 33-car parking lot to meet the needs of large quantities of visitors. Admission to the boardwalk is free, however, parking is $10 per vehicle says DeMille. Carpooling is recommended to ensure visitors don’t park illegally and receive tickets.

In addition, a shuttle bus is available weekends at Terra Cotta Conservation Area in Halton Hills from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The Badlands is open daily until Oct. 28 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. During the fall season, off-peak hour visits on weekdays are encouraged, says DeMille.

“The weekends are the busiest time. [The best time to visit is] during the week. It’s not so busy so you can have a more intimate experience,” says DeMille.