Why we Call These Wyoming Rock Formations “HOODOOS”
When I first moved to Wyoming, about 11 or so years ago, I saw some rock formations the likes of which I had never known existed. I tried describing them to some locals.
"I did not know the Earth did that," I said.
"You found the hoodoos," I was told.
Hearing that word confused me a little. I grew up in the deep South. Down there "hoodoos" means something very different. It has nothing to do with a rock formation.
The photos you'll see below were taken by artist and photographer Tim Mandese near Casper, Wyoming. But this is just one sort of hoodoo. They can come in many different sizes and shapes.
In the South, the word "hoodoo" comes from Voodoo. It refers to strange spirits or a single strange spirit at work. Down south a hoodoo can be a spirit raised from the dead by voodoo or even a zombie. It could be a spirit that never left or came back naturally. Or it could be a natural spirit like the spirit of nature itself.
The band Creedence Clearwater Revival's hit song Born On A Bayou mentions a boy's dog chasing after a strange spirit that the boy could not see.
I can still hear my old hound dog barkin'
Chasin' down a hoodoo there
Chasin' down a hoodoo there
I wondered how the word that I had grown up with in the South had made it to Wyoming and was used for rock formations. The answer actually makes a lot of sense.
To the American Indian strange rock formations happened because of the presence of strange spirits. These areas were considered sacred ground and in some cases even left alone.
When new people came across the land in covered wagons they asked the Indians what caused those strange formations. They were told, "strange spirits." This made sense, and there was already a word for those strange spirits. Hoodoos.
At some point, the name for these strange spirits was attached to the rock formations themselves. Now the strange rock formations are called hoodoos rather than it referring to the strange spirits active in the area.
The gentleman in the video below is hiking an area called The Hoodoos in Yellowstone National Park.
Devil's Tower is a massive hoodoo. Hell's Half Acre as well as Devil's Gate are hoodoo formations. Do you notice how many of these places are named after spirit things, even in English?
When white men first saw Devils Tower they asked the Indians what it was called. The Indians tried to explain the "bad god," or perhaps the "mischievous god" that caused it and who inhabited the area. The closest translation the white man had for that was The Devil. So, they began to call it Devils Tower. That is not what the Indians meant and they are not happy about the translation to this day.
So, if you are exploring Wyoming and you see rock formations of any sort that leave you scratching your head just remember, this is sacred ground. Strange spirits are active here. Tread carefully and be respectful.