Hell’s Half Acre is a short drive off the beaten track with a view so stunning and incredible, motorists report doing a U-turn on Highway 20/26 between Shoshoni and Casper to stop and see it.
The only “downfall” is the fence, one TripAdvisor review notes. That makes it “difficult, but not impossible to get some great pictures of the experience.”
The 6-foot-tall fence was put up out of safety concerns, after Hell’s Half Acre was closed in 2005. That is when the motel and restaurant owner at the site decided to retire.
Those structures were torn down, and barbed wire was put on top of the fence to keep people out of the location.
People have since cut holes into the fence to go hiking anyway, and there are dozens of TripAdvisor and other reviews advising people on the best way to access the location.
The popularity of the unadvertised site hasn’t gone unnoticed by Visit Casper folks, who are part of a coalition that’s looking into re-opening Hell’s Half Acre.
They conducted a public survey, which ended Oct. 20, to gather public comments on their proposal to reopen Hell’s Half Acre to the public. The survey already has 186 comments, mostly positive, about the idea.
Stunning History, Geology
Hell’s Half Acre was part of a 960-acre tract of land donated to Natrona County from the federal government in 1924. About 320 acres of the site are an exposed section of the Wind River Formation with deep ravines, caves, and wind-shaped earth and rock formations that immediately give it a Badlands feel, or, if you will, an alien terrain vibe.
The alien vista that’s so natural to the area is probably why the producers of the cult-classic Starship Troopers movie chose a portion of the 960-acre site as the setting for its fictional planet, Klendathu.
Before it was famous for that, and before even Europeans had discovered it, American Indians used it to drive bison to their deaths during hunts.
Once Europeans came along and settled the area, they had their own names for it. The Devil’s Kitchen, the Pits of Hades, and the Baby Grand Canyon.
Until that is, according to some legends, a cowhand showed up one day, and, looking at the alkali and bogs and rough badlands terrain before him, declared that he must be at Hell’s Half Acre.
The phrase itself conjures up the sorts of difficulties the cowhand must have been facing at the time, and it’s a colorful story, but not the only legend about the place’s name.
Another suggests the name came about as part of an advertising campaign to bring more tourists to the roadside attraction. Thousands of postcards were ordered as part of the campaign that were supposed to say “Devil’s Kitchen” on them.
But when the postcards arrived, they instead had the name Hell’s Half Acre. Not wanting to lose the limited funding they had to invest in the campaign, they kept the postcards.
Regardless of how the name came about, it has stuck.
High Tourism Potential
Natrona County is still the owner of Hell’s Half Acre and the county’s parks director has for long time had it on his wish list to reopen, Visit Casper’s Amanda Sewell told Cowboy State Daily.
Sewell has grown up in the Casper area. She’s seeing a lot of excitement and support for opening the site, and that’s something she understands.
“This has been closed the majority of my life,” she said. “For 19 years and I’m 28. I’d never been to Hell’s Half Acre until now for this project.”
The stunning geography added to her convictions that re-opening the park is the right thing to do for the community.
“We already see tourism going to it,” she said, referring to the TripAdvisor reviews advising people on how to bypass the fence to get photos of the site. “We see it as a touristy spot.”
The payout, in fact, could be substantial.
“Back in the day, it brought in $4 million to our community,” Sewell said. “And that is a good reason, too, as to why we are attracted to opening it. Because it was once used as a film location, there’s absolutely a market for tourists that go visit popular television and film settings.”
Natrona County Outdoor Recreation Collaborative has created a subcommittee of six to seven people inspired by the idea of reopening the park, Sewell added.
“We didn’t ask for any financial assistance, but we went to the commissioners to just ask for their support,” she said. “We shared with them some renovations we could do as well.”
Sewell said the group already has about $100,000 pledged from a private source for the project to reopen the park, and they’re writing grants to raise the remaining $100,000 needed for their plans.
“We do want to keep it safe, because there is so much history and stunning geography,” Sewell said. “So motorized vehicles won’t be allowed, Just walking and hiking.”
The height of the fence will also be lowered to 4 feet, instead of 6, to facilitate viewing the location for passersby.
“The parking lot is full of potholes, so we are going to completely redo that,” she said. “Make it pavement so cars won’t get destroyed. And we will make sure we maintain it. The parks (department) will send someone out weekly to check trash cans that we have put out there and make sure everything looks good.”
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.