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Moonwalking: Off-Trail in the Cave Hills

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A natural arch in the Cave Hills.
Photo: Michael Zimny

In the Cave Hills, there are jagged boulder fields where only cactus grow and red scoria crunches beneath your feet as you weave between the rubble of some geologic battlefield. Something happened here — some kind of magma-clysm that had to hurt. Some locals call these lava flats "the Moon," and when you come here you might look for reference points in the space diaries of Boba Fett or Lando Calrissian.

This place feels fissile and it is. There are abandoned uranium mines that might best be avoided.

The Cave Hills (North and South) are two small, remote units of the Custer-Gallatin National Forest that can be accessed from several gravel roads running West from US Highway 85.

South of Riley Pass and the mine sites, a table shaped like a supine flame plunges steeply at the margins, where the elements have furrowed a lattice work of landforms — natural arches, flying buttresses and portholes.

You can trace the upper edge, or find passages to the bottom or a middle ledge. Solitary forms stipple the valley — a truncated pyramid, a layered mound like the soft-serve cone on the Zesto sign.

The best known site in the North Cave Hills is Ludlow Cave, known for its petroglyphs. Those have largely been destroyed by graffiti and time. Your SDPB correspondent won't reveal its location.

Forget the cave. Just walking here on "the Moon," finding stairways along the craters' edge, might etch something in you that abides.