Skip to content

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Earthcache EarthCache

Hidden : 03/29/2007
1 out of 5
1 out of 5

Size: Size:   not chosen (not chosen)

Join now to view geocache location details. It's free!


How Geocaching Works

Related Web Page

Please note Use of services is subject to the terms and conditions in our disclaimer.

Geocache Description:



Nestled in the Rocky Mountain Foothills lies one of the more interesting geographical and historical features of Western Canada, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.  Where the prairie meets the foothills, there is a cliff that the natives had used for many, many years to hunt the buffalo for food.  At the site there is an interpretive centre, some paths, and some of the most stunning scenery the prairies have to offer.



More than 5,500 years ago, the natives in this area used the cliffs to their advantage during the large buffalo hunts.  Many of the native communities would come together and camp in the plains below the cliff while they prepared for the jump.  The general idea was to herd the buffalo into “drive lanes”.  These lanes were marked by cairns of rocks, and during the run, were manned by the natives in order to direct the herd.  When the buffalo crested the small hill at the top, it was too late for them to stop before plummeting off the cliff.

In the 1800’s, according to legend, a young brave wanted to watch the plunge of buffalo as his people drove them to their deaths over the cliffs.  Standing under the shelter of a ledge, he watched the great beasts fall past him.  The hunt was unusually good that day.  As the bodies mounted, he became trapped between the animals and the cliff.  When his people came to do the butchering, they found him with his skull crushed by the weight of the buffalo carcasses.  Thus, they named the place “Head-Smashed-In.”


[source: Unesco World Heritage Site sign at the location]

This is a view of the Calderwood Buffalo Jump, which is beside Head-Smashed-In.  From this photo, one can see that the cliff doesn’t need to be particularly high, just placed correctly. 

This is a photo taken from the upper path of Head-Smashed-In.  One can see in this photo that the slight rise on the left provided the appropriate blind for the buffalo to avoid seeing the cliff ahead.  The cliff is only about 10 meters high, but when the natives started using this site, it is estimated that the cliff was more than twice that height, at about 22 meters.

Question for bonus points: why would the cliff be shorter now than 5,500 years ago?  What makes up this mass at the base?

These are replicas of the cairns that marked the drivelanes as one approaches the jump.  These cairns would have been built up before the drive, and covered with organic material.



To the west of Head-Smashed-In, the Porcupine Hills surround a large basin of low, rolling grasslands drained by Olsen Creek and its tributaries.  East of this basin the hills end at deep sandstone cliffs, such as the one at Head-Smashed-In.  Flat plains stretch eastward below these cliffs as far as the eye can see.

Many similar bedrock outcrops – the eroded easternmost slopes of the Porcupine Hills – border the Plains near Head-Smashed-In.  Erosion by wind and water has formed the cliffs by splitting away sections of the sandstone.  The toppled boulders can be seen at the base of the Head-Smashed-In cliff.

The Rocky Mountains are folded and fractured beds of sedimentary and metamorphic rocks which began uplifting some 100 million years ago.

The Porcupine Hills, unlike the Rockies, are flat beds of sandstone.  This accounts for the level surface at the top of the cliff at Head-Smashed-In.

[source: sign inside the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump interpretive centre.]

Please note, however, that this does not answer the bonus points question above.

With regards to the wind through this area, it is one of the most windy places in Canada.  West winds blow here more than half the time, with some gusts up to 150 kilometers per hour.  This area benefits during the winter from the most “Chinook” winds (warm westerly winds that can raise the temperature by as much as 20 degrees Celsius in a few hours), with an average of 35 Chinooks per year.  It is only calm in this area 14% of the time.


#1) Go to the posted coordinates and examine the column.  There is a specific reason that Head-Smashed-In is of vital importance to the Province of Alberta.  What is this reason?  Email the owner with the answer, or unfortunately, your log will be removed as being incomplete.

#2) The people at the interpretive centre have been kind enough to host a logbook for us!  Go in to the front desk, and ask for the geocaching logbook.  There is even an FTF prize!

#3) If you wish to tour the upper trail and interpretive centre, the current (2007 season) prices and hours are:

·        Summer: 09:00 – 18:00

·        Winter: 10:00 – 17:00

·        Open year round, every day, except for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and Easter Sunday

·        Adults:  $9.00

·        Seniors: $8.00

·        Youth 7-17: $5.00

·        Family:  $22.00

·        Under 7: Free

#4) Please do log online with photos and stories of your visit.

The telephone number of the centre is (403) 553-2731.


All photos taken by the cache owner, 2007.

This earthcache was made possible with the help and cooperation of the following people, so please be sure to thank them in your log:


·        The Piikani First Nation

·        Ian Clarke, Regional Manager, Historic Sites and Museums Branch, Alberta Provincial Government

·        Jim Martin, Manager, Education and Special Exhibits, Head-Smashed-In Interpretive Centre

·        Tricia, the fine lady at the front desk




Additional Hints (No hints available.)