Places To Explore
The Red Desert
Hidden away in southwestern Wyoming, The Red Desert consists of approximately six million acres of stunning rainbow-colored hoodoos, towering buttes, swirling sand dunes, vast open spaces and prehistoric rock art which Native peoples have left in the form of petroglyphs and teepee rings that outline ancient campsites. Its emptiness can overwhelm visitors at first, but as you explore and look more closely, the desert has a way of drawing you in. The Red Desert has captivated hundreds of thousands of people over the years. But now this area faces threats— in the form of oil and gas development— that may change it forever.
Since the settlement of the West and long before, the Red Desert has played a special role in the lives of Americans. For thousands of years the region has been a sacred place of worship for the Shoshone and Ute tribes. Pioneers, Pony Express riders, Mormon settlers and mountain men also found, among the desert’s features, important landmarks that guided them west toward Utah, Oregon, Washington and California.
The Red Desert is a rich landscape that offers world-renowned pronghorn and elk hunting, wildlife viewing and one of the largest active sand dune complexes in North America. Animals have adapted over generations to thrive in this harsh landscape. One of the largest desert elk herds in North America makes the Red Desert its home. Each year a portion of the 50,000 pronghorn antelope and 50,000 mule deer herds migrate to the Red Desert for the winter and then into the Upper Green River Basin and Wind River Mountains during the summer. The Red Desert provides these animals with crucial wintering habitat. In the springtime, thousands of sage-grouse gather for their mating dances as they have for centuries.
Play in the Killpecker Sand Dunes
The Killpecker Sand Dunes are part of the Greater Sand Dunes ACEC, or Area of Critical Environmental Concern. The western portion of this ACEC includes the Sand Dunes and Buffalo Hump Wilderness Study Areas. These are areas of land that have potential for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System. The Steamboat Mountain area is crucial birthing habitat for deer and elk. This area is closed to motor vehicles from May 1st through June 30th to protect this habitat. There is access to the the area by the Tri-territory Road (County Road 4-17), which leaves U. S. Highway 191 approximately 12 miles north of Rock Springs.
Off-Highway Vehicle OPEN PLAY AREA
Safety Precautions: Many of the dunes are very steep on the lee or downwind side. Use caution when approaching the crest of a dune. Even in this desert environment there are small ponds of water. Most of the ponds are on the lee side of the dunes.
Know Where You Are: People can and do get lost in the sand dunes. Open play is permitted only on the shifting sand. The road which bounds the Wilderness Study Area is marked and motor vehicle traffic is prohibited, but you can explore this area on foot or on horseback. Motor vehicle traffic in the Steamboat Mountain ACEC is permitted only on designated roads and trails. Please respect these areas by following the rules.
The Rules: Off Highway Vehicle use is allowed only in the Sand Dunes Open Play area and only on active sand dunes.
Jack Morrow Hills
Within the northeastern portion of the Red Desert lies the 620,000-acre area known as the Jack Morrow Hills. Citizens have fought to protect the Red Desert since 1898 when Wyoming hunters attempted to designate much of it as a Winter Game Preserve. Since then there have been attempts to protect the Jack Morrow Hills Area as a National Park, a National Wildlife Refuge, a Wild Horse Refuge, and a North American Antelope Range. None of these efforts succeeded. Now, more than a century later, threats to this part of the Red Desert have escalated making it more crucial than ever to take action to help ensure this magnificent area is protected.
Mountain lions, coyotes, golden eagles, ferruginous hawks, and bands of wild horses inhabit this area. Seven designated Wilderness Study Areas are located within the JMH. Archeological evidence indicates that Native Americans first inhabited this region 12,000 years ago. They followed migrating wildlife along what is today known as the Indian Gap Trail.
Recent explorers include mountain men like Jedediah Smith, who traversed the desert nearly 200 years ago. These adventurers may have been seeking to explore this wild, isolated country for the sake of adventure—just as today's visitors do. The Oregon, California, Mormon, and Pony Express Trails traverse the Jack Morrow Hills section of the Red Desert, and to this day, the desert evokes images of the remarkable grit and courage of our pioneer ancestors.
Adobe Town is not populated by humans or truck stops. It is an area of high desert buttes and badlands that has long attracted attention for its mesmerizing landscapes. Adobe Town lies in the southwest corner of what is called the Great Divide Country. The Great Divide Country includes the entire south central and southeastern part of Wyoming, a total of approximately 18,000 square miles.
Carved into intricate shapes by water and wind, Adobe Town is possibly the most astonishing and remote set of badlands and geological formations in the entire state of Wyoming. Throughout the area, which is virtually untouched by human activity, wide patches of desert and rolling sand dunes stretch across the open spaces between colorful rock formations and rugged canyons. Fossils of long-extinct mammals, reptiles, and invertebrates show visitors what once inhabited this landscape. And several high priority plant species that have adapted to thrive off 5 inches of average rainfall sprout from the arid soil.
Adobe Town is famous for its trophy antelope and also contains trophy mule deer. In addition, Wyoming's largest herd of wild horses roams here. Due to an abundance of jack rabbits and other prey, this area is also prime raptor habitat. Golden eagles, prairie falcons, red-tailed hawks, burrowing owls, and ferruginous hawks all nest in these badlands. Horned toads, rattlesnakes and other small desert dwellers also abound. Like the Jack Morrow Hills, people have sought to protect Adobe Town from development in the past, including an effort to have it designated as a national park. However, when the BLM developed its wilderness recommendations, natural gas potential was given priority over public recreation and environmental quality.