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Wyoming Has a Crack Problem (And It’s Not What You Think)

A mysterious tear in the ground is the state’s new social media star and a testament to the fast fury of Mother Nature

(Martin Gerten/dpa/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

The remote hunting grounds of Wyoming are dotted with mountains, canyons and dry sage plains. But within the last month, reports Peter Holley for The Washington Post, something new has become part of the landscape: a mysterious gash the length of six football fields.

The trench was first noticed by hunting guides who posted about the bizarre phenomenon on social media, Holley reports. According to USA Today’s Trevor Hughes, who went to the site with the hunting guides who discovered it, the very photogenic crevasse is a “massive tear in the ground, hundreds of yards long and at least 100 feet deep in some places.”

But what does this gash mean for Wyoming residents nervous about earthquakes, drought and even volcanoes? Chamois Andersen, the Wyoming Geological Survey public information specialist tells The Powell Tribune’s Matt Naber that the crack, which has not yet been surveyed because it is on private land, is likely a slow-moving landslide:

Based on prior mapping and what’s visible in the pictures, “the gash” is likely a slump, slide or detachment, Andersen said. But, without an on-the-ground investigation, it’s difficult to determine.

“There is some speculation on the web, and with our folks too, that an early, wet, spring and summer had a lot to do with it,” Andersen said. “It is not uncommon to have slides like that.”

Wyoming is no stranger to slow-moving landslides—last year, residents of Jackson were evacuated when a landslide slowly crept along a hillside, threatening homes and businesses. Terrain can affect a landslide’s outcome, the USGS explains in this fact sheet, leading to falling, sliding, creeping or even spreading rock.

Officials are warning people interested in seeing the massive crack for themselves to keep their distance. But that won’t stop people from speculating: On the Facebook post about the original find, people are blaming everything from fracking to Decepticons for the fissure.

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