25 October 2022

Bigger Than it Sounds

So many times I've visited Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park, but never did I enter via the east entrance until 2017. Lizard and I have longed to return and visit Cody (another tale for another blog post one day) ever since. We finally got our chance last month. Not only had I forgotten how beautiful the Wapiti Valley is (although it was retirement love at first site), but I also discovered yet another beautiful rock formation en route.

This was our first road trip (other than visiting Lizard's mom) in at least four years. We must take our road trips in far smaller bites these days. Three years ago, Lizard couldn't handle being in the car more than about ten minutes. We've been slowly, steadily trying to build his sitting-still tolerance. Lizard can now handle nearly two hours in the car if I stop every 20 miles or so to let him walk around. We can cram two four-hour trips into one day now, too. He's made such progress since he was diagnosed with Parkinson's. We stayed in Casper our first night, which means I researched things to see/do in the area. Hell's Half Acre made several lists.

I may have driven past this visual treasure more than just the three times I know of, but I never noticed it until this trip. You cannot not see the majesty from the highway! The only reason I was able to explore in limited fashion now is thanks to research that suggested a one-hour stop. One of the articles I read suggested taking a drone to really see the landscape. I assumed that meant it must be steep, unhikeable terrain, especially for Lizard.

Unhikeable may be a super acurate description, but that's not what prevents a photographer from really seeing this treasure. The tiny little pullout included a hotel, campground and restaurant until 17 years ago. I noticed two places where a "trail" had eroded away, which would make for some pretty dicey hiking. But that's not what prevents a photographer from really seeing this treasure. A 10-foot chainlink fence topped with razor wire guards the entire rim of the canyon.

I wished I had a drone. I wish I'd been able to hike the canyon, which sports colors reminiscent of Colorado's Paint Mines (which, by the way, IS hikeable).

Initially, I assumed Hell's Half Acre had been closed to the public because one rotten person had ruined it for everyone. My heart ached because everyone should see and enjoy this spellbinding collection of spires, hoodoos, caves and colors.

I researched Hell's Half Acre more thoroughly that night. Turns out the 320-acre formation was gifted to Natrona County by the federal government back in 1924. There are two tales circulating on the internet as to how such a beautiful place was labeled such a Halloween name.

Wikipedia says the site was known as Devil's Kitchen (also the name of a formation in Colorado National Monument outside of Grand Junction) and The Baby Grand Canyon until a disoriented cowhand stumbled upon it and thought it was the alkalai bog by that name southwest of Casper. That story doesn't sound very likely to me because that would make the cowhand fairly uneducated and unfamiliar with the area. The two sites have NOTHING in common but the name!!! This is not the first time I've read what might be folklore on Wiki that has been repeated so often, it actually gains traction as fact. Here is what I learned about the other Hell's Half Acre in Wyoming, from www.wyohistory.org, which I consider more reliable than the Wiki tale:

"After getting well up on the hog back, you come to what is known as “Hell’s Half Acre.” It is a patch of ground which has the appearance of at one time containing a bed of coal, and the coal having been all burned out. There are deep sinks in the ground, almost a half-mile deep, and peaks sticking up in all shapes and sizes. It is truly half an acre of, so far as good-for-nothing land is concerned..."

The second and more likely origin of the name was a printing error when a group of Casper boosters ordered postcards to help bring more tourists to the area. This one leaves a taste of suspicion in my mind, too, because what printer would make this kind of mistake? Nevertheless, I think this story may have more history on its side than the first. Here's what www.geowyo.com has to say:

"The name Hells Half Acre came from an advertising campaign by boosters in Casper wanting to bring more tourists to the area with a roadside attraction. They ordered thousands of picture postcards with the name “Devil’s Kitchen,” but they arrived with the name Hells Half Acre. Not wanting to lose money, the cards were used, and the name changed."

Whatever the truth, the history is almost as fascinating as the canyon. Hell's Half Acre deserves more attention than it gets. Natrona County probably doesn't have the money required to turn an area such as this into a roadside or state park. The county probably can't afford liability insurance that would be required in order to keep the area unfenced. And then there's tacky vandalism...

There is a sign on the gated remains of what may have at one time been an actual road stating an improved roadway is in the works. I hope one day that happens. I would pay to visit this place. And I would spend far more than one hour!!!

1 comment :

  1. WOW!!! That is such interesting geography and I bet there is more in there than we know. Its not far from dinosaur finds... I wonder.....
    Glad you stopped!!!


Dusty words lying under carpets,
seldom heard, well must you keep your secrets
locked inside, hidden deep from view?
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