There’s not much to Hudson, Wyoming, anymore. A stonemason shop, a steakhouse (rumored to also be the first pizza joint in the state) that has been there since the mid-1900s and is run by a Yugoslavian family, and even a dodgy-looking “fine family dancing” establishment. A crumbling building from the Wild West days with fading advertisements for rooms and sheriffs.
For most people, Hudson is that annoying half-mile stretch of road where the speed limit goes from a loose 65 mph to a well-enforced 30. Or where we go to get our local, sustainably-raised beef from Wyoming Custom Meats. And you can’t see much from the road. Trailers. Dusty gas hills. Desert plains covered with little more than sage.
But the lonely highway and the fading Old West facade have their secrets, the little things they hide away from prying eyes. Hudson hides a century of mining, open hunting grounds, and, if you dig deep enough, a badlands playground.
Badlands are relatively rare geological features that appear when soft rock is worn away by wind and water, creating spectacular ravines and hoodoos of colors ranging from uranium green to sunset orange. To the Lakota, the features were Makhóšiča, bad land. To the French, they were les mauvaises terres à traverser, the bad lands to cross. Some are famous: Badlands National Park is a popular road trip destination on the way to or from the Black Hills of South Dakota. Hell’s Half Acre outside of Casper, WY, played host to Klendathu, the insectoid planet in Starship Troopers.
But often, badlands are abandoned, lost, places people pass by without stopping. Deserts devoid of water and life. In Hudson, the badlands are quiet, hidden-away nooks and crannies for skeet shooting, ATV racing and other adventures. They aren’t a closely-guarded secret as much as a forgotten pastime, but that doesn’t make them any less fascinating, burnt scars in a desolate high desert.
These quietly stunning features are a few miles off Highway 789 in Hudson, WY. Take Ohio Avenue (not always marked) south out of town. Note: once the pavement stops, roads may be impassable when wet.
Looking for some badlands free of the restrictions of the National Park Service and far from other wayward tourists? Head to Wyoming for some not-to-miss scenery, and you may be the only person for 100 miles to witness the harsh beauty of the wild place.
Wyoming’s Red Desert is smack in the middle of the Great Divide Basin, where water drains neither to the Pacific nor the Atlantic and instead gathers and stagnates in one of the largest unfenced stretch of pasture land in the country, settled in between Rock Springs, Farson and South Pass City.
Even on holiday weekends, you may be the only person you see in these less-popular but no less-spectacular version of Badlands.
While as much as 84% of the Red Desert has been industrialized by the oil and gas companies, it’s easy to find your own private desert cove to relax in. And despite the stretches of thick, sandy desert, these badlands are home to myriad wildlife, including seasonal wetland birds, pronghorn, rare desert elk and wild horses.
Fossils litter the ground, largely turtles and other ancient reptiles, and it was the perfect place for Jonmikel to find his very first fossil! Stone turtle shells speckle the cracked earth as abundantly as needles in a pine forest, and they crinkle and crack underfoot and turn to dust.
As this area is largely managed, so to speak, by the Bureau of Land Management, you are free to roam and camp where you like, but beware that if you are lucky enough to see one of the rare rainfalls, you could get washed out and stuck in the sand before you even hear the waters coming.
The cultural landscape of the Red Desert is hidden just below the surface, with petroglyphs dating back almost 12,000 years dotting any solid rock surface.
But people, it seems, have always been fascinated by this arid basin and it’s seas of red sandstone and shifting dunes. Human remains are tucked into corners with bison bones and artifacts, a testament to this veritable crossroads of Plains warriors. When the settlers came, only to discover that the rains would most certainly not follow, they explored the desert for any advantage they could find.
Wagon roads, rail roads and evidence of gold are buried under the ever-changing landscape, and everyone from BP to Annie Proulx to The Nature Conservancy and the National Wildlife Federation have a stake in the future of the Red Desert.
In 1959, this quiet little caldera exploded. The shallow quakes preceding the event gave visitors and rangers only a short three hours to prepare for a full scale eruption that launched lava and rock as much as 1,900 feet into the air in plumes of ash and fire. The fountain that flowed continuously reached regular heights of 290 feet, creating a spectacle that brave visitors could watch from across the way.
The Pu’u Pua’i cinder cone was the mouth of the volcano, heaving and spewing into a lava lake over 400 feet deep. When the lake finally covered the top of the main vent, the force of the eruption created massive waves of 2,200-degree lava that lapped against the sides of the molten lake. The weight of the lake was enormous – 86 million tons, or 235 times heavier than the Empire State Building.
The pressure from above caused the floor of the crater to sink (which it still does by approximately 3/4 of an inch each year), and as the lava cooled and the floor sank, large fissures formed, which today allows piping hot steam to seep from the still-molten depths, and from those depths, new life emerges.
Above, Kat hovers near the mouth of the volcano, the face that once spewed out some of the hottest lava on record.
Through holes bored into the lake’s surface, scientists could tell that the lake remained at least partially molten until the 1990s. Though it is now solid (a plus, considering the very popular day-hike trail that traverses the solid lava flow), the rock that now forms the lake is still extremely hot.
You can find the boreholes on the surface, but be careful: they continue to emit scalding steam as rainwater slips in cracks in the lava and hits hot stone beneath.
Apparently, I’m adverse to following rules, because I stuck my camera right into one. It was hot but not scalding, so I guess I got lucky. But it’s eerie to think that down there, where this steam originated, is a volcano planning a sneak attack on cheerfully oblivious vacationists.
As per an agreement with Native Hawaiians, the National Park Service allows people to leave offerings, conduct religious ceremonies and gather specific natural resources for religious purposes inside park boundaries.
Leaving a little something to Pele is a common activity as the lava rises and flows in the Halema’uma’u crater beyond.
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