The Badlands Guardian (also known as "Indian Head") is a geomorphological feature located near Medicine Hat in the south east corner of Alberta, Canada. Viewed from the air, the feature bears a strong resemblance to a human head wearing a full native American headdress, facing directly westward. Because of additional man-made structures, it also appears to be wearing earphones. The apparent earphones are a road and an oil well, which were installed recently and are expected to disappear once the project is abandoned. Its scale is much larger than the figures of Mount Rushmore.
The head is a drainage feature created through erosion of soft, clay-rich soil by the action of wind and water. The arid badlands are typified by infrequent but intense rain-showers, sparse vegetation and soft sediments. The 'head' may have been created during a short period of fast erosion immediately following intense rainfall. Although the image appears to be a convex feature, it is actually concave — that is, a valley, which is formed by erosion on a stratum of clay, and is an instance of the Hollow-Face illusion. Its age is estimated to be the in hundreds of years at a minimum.
The feature was originally discovered by Lynn Hickox while examining images on the Google Earth application in November 2006. Suitable names were canvassed by CBC Radio One program As It Happens. Out of 50 names submitted, seven were suggested to the Cypress County Council. They altered the suggested 'Guardian of the Badlands' to become Badlands Guardian.
The Badlands Guardian was also described by the Sydney Morning Herald as a "net sensation". PCWorld magazine has referred to the formation as a "geological marvel". The Guardian was also covered by Canada's Global Television. It is listed as the seventh of the top ten Google Earth finds by Time Magazine.
- 'Face on Mars', photographed by Viking 1 in 1976
- Marcahuasi, a plateau in the Andes, near Lima, Peru with numerous rock formations with surprising likenesses to specific animals, people, and religious symbols.
- Old Man of the Mountain, rock profile in New Hampshire
- Old Man of Hoy, a rock pillar off Scotland that resembles a standing man
- Pareidolia, the phenomena of perceiving faces in random patterns
- Sydney Morning Herald Article by Stephen Hutcheon: "Gran's canyon is a net sensation" November 13, 2006
- Randall Stross (23 September 2008). Planet Google: One Company's Audacious Plan to Organize Everything We Know. Free Press. p. 142. ISBN 978-1-4165-8047-8. Retrieved 6 September 2013. "The Badlands Guardian, for example, a natural geologic formation near Alberta, Canada, was often visited by online aviators. It resembles a human head, wearing Native American headdress—and also appears to be naturally adorned with ..."
- "The Badlands Guardian". Global TV.
- CBC Radio: As It Happens "Alberta's Aztec Rocker?" (Includes taped interview with geology professor Dr. Froese)
- As It Happens 3D rendering by CBC Radio[dead link]
- Dan Fletcher. "Top 10 Google Earth Finds: A Face in the Clay". Time Magazine.
- Badlands Guardian: Satellite Imagery from Google Earth Written by Rosemarie McKeon Friday, 08 August 2008 15:38 through Web Archive
- PCWorld In Pictures: The Strangest Sights in Google Earth PC World Staff July 9, 2007 1:00 am
- Satellite image (Google Maps)
- Photo of the Badlands Guardian taken from a paraglider
- 3D diagram of Badlands Guardian topography, prepared by Lutz Perschon for CBC Radio.[dead link]
- Google Earth Community Page about the discovery of the feature.