GET OUT: Hell’s Half Acre boasts eerie features
JACKSON HOLE, WYO – When it gets too snowy around here and you feel like seeing some earth or, if you find yourself on that mind-numbing drive to Casper one day and have time for a diversion, I’ve got the perfect stop for you.
First off, let’s set the record straight. Hell’s Half Acre is more like 320 acres of a geological oddity known as an escarpment. The area also has been known as “The Devil’s Kitchen,” “The Pit of Hades,” and the “Baby Grand Canyon.”
Some wayward cowboy tagged it Hell’s Half Acre even though there are several such locations in the United States claiming the same name, including a section of lava fields in Idaho, a massive bunker on the seventh hole at Pine Valley Golf Club, and an affectionate nickname for Texas Christian University’s football field.
Aside from the unique features including bogs, ravines, hoodoos and spire rock formations, there are eerie caves that are supposedly haunted by a beautiful young Indian maiden. In fact, Native American tribes once drove great herds of buffalo to their death in the blind arroyos here during their hunts.
The terrain is so bizarrely out of place it was chosen to represent the fictional planet Klendathu in the movie Starship Troopers. The sci-fi thriller, in which a futuristic military does battle with giant bugs, has become something of a cult favorite in recent years. It’s not terrible, but it’s not very good. However, before visiting this area, it’s a must-see.
The roadside attraction restaurant/souvenir shop closed in 2005. Wikipedia reports the abandoned motel and restaurant have been torn down. A year-old story in the Casper Star-Tribune, which details one man’s desire to build a nice steakhouse there, claims the classic sign is gone. However, the buildings remain in a state of disrepair. The area is fenced off where buildings may or may not still stand. That land is owned by Natrona County. An interpretive sign can be found nearby.
Access to the pit, however, is not difficult for the adventurous.
Be a trooper
The last time I was there I found all kinds of movie leftovers. They say if you look hard enough, it’s easy to find spent shells used as blanks in the movie. So many people have popped off their own rounds down here it’s hard to say where a bullet casing came from, but you’ll find a bunch of them.
You can also find numerous bison bones unearthed by the elements. It’s astounding to think how many shaggies were run off these short cliffs over the centuries.
It was blowing pretty good when I was last there. I think it’s always blowing. The forlorn landscape looked like the skeleton of what’s left underneath grass, trees and creeks after a scorched earth event. I followed one dry bed up and up to where it had carved its way through a soft stone rock, making a cool tunnel.
This mini-badlands area reminds me of sandstone formations in southern Utah, only the material at work here is alkali dust and mud. Or something. I’m not a geologist. I checked out a few caves, but they’re not real caves. They’re pretty small.
I found a few artifacts from the movie shoot. There were some colored lighting gels half-buried in the sand and a platform with some anchor bolts that was probably built for the scene where the spaceship lands and the bugs show up to eat them.
There are no trails. Just meander about and make believe your starring in your own sci-fi Western.
Zero out the odometer in Shoshoni, just past Riverton. Clock 55 miles and watch for the spooky rock features and a possible boarded up building or two melting into the land. If you hit Powder River you’ve gone too far. It’s back about five-and-a-half miles.
Ask around in some of the small towns around HHA: Hiland, Waltman, Powder River, or Natrona. Most folks usually enjoy talking about the day Hollywood came to their desolate part of the state. Some were even cast as extras. They had to play dead bodies mostly, lying down in the hot sun during the weeks of summer filming.