Hoodoos are fantastically shaped stone pillars in deserts and badlands of the North American West. Classic hoodoo groupings, such as those in Bryce Canyon National Park and Goblin Valley State Park in southern Utah, form by sporadic, intensive rainfall erosion of steeply sloped but horizontally layered sedimentary rock, leaving freestanding pinnacles, each with an overhanging cap of resistant stone. They abound on the Colorado Plateau, where smaller specimens are sometimes called goblins, but occur also north through the Rockies and have been reported on Baffin Island in the Arctic. The term dates back at least to the mid–nineteenth century. Walt Whitman, in Specimen Days, regrets that he never saw “the ‘hoodoo’ or goblin land” of the Yellowstone country. That these arresting features should have been tagged with a variant of voodoo seems almost inevitable. Their suggestively spirited forms, whether taken as malign, whimsical, or transcendently elusive, exert spells to which many humans are susceptible.

John Daniel