The Red Desert: This place is so Cool
The only image of a desert I had growing up came from the TV show, Rat Patrol, where these guys drove around on sand dunes with a machine gun in the back of their jeep. The Red Desert in southwestern Wyoming has some sand dunes but is also bursting with elk, pronghorns, history and geological tales. It is truly a wonderland! People who are into geology and geography probably are aware of it, but outside of the west, it is probably not all that well known. If you visit, you will notice the absence of tourist spots or resorts when you go there. It is remote, wild and beautiful. My new friend, Bill Sniffin, in his book , “Wyoming, the 7 Natural Wonders” , has some great photography and writing about this area. Check this book out if you don’t already have one, is a great gift to yourself and others. http://www.wyomingwonders.com
In 2012, my wife and I went on a guided tour with John Mionczynski, a well known naturalist, desert guy, honky-tonk piano player and Big Foot expert. Hanging with John for the day was half the fun. John is a very unique character from our region, who has brought attention and controversy to the Red Desert. (He may be different, but he is one of us.) Anyway, we started our tour on the northern end of the desert at South Pass, where the Mormon and Oregon trails exist between Lander and Farson. As we turned south we stopped at the Oregon Trail and I couldn’t help but visualize the wagon trains and stream of folks who roughed it through this area. This is some rough land to trek through and I often think about break downs between towns when I am driving through it. I can’t imagine the wagon train life as they passed through.
After passing the Oregon Buttes we headed down into the valley floor and as we approached the bottom, we saw a herd of wild horses running alongside of us at about 25 mph. My wife, the fanatical, nutty, obsessive horse lover, (who feeds her horses before her husband), figured the day was a success after that sight, and we were just getting started. Of course we saw many more wonders, but looking out at the horses keeping pace with the truck was a real treat. We had carpooled with a guest from the group in and I am not really sure whether she enjoyed the typical Jones panic to stop and take the picture, and “what are you waiting for” comments, and . .”good night, don’t you know how to work that camera by now”. . .”do you want me to do it?” . . . .A blessed marital moment for sure. The picture came out ok with my wife in charge.
We made our way towards the Honey Comb Buttes, a beautiful badland formation. We could have spent hours walking about looking for fossils, enjoying the color and patterns within the formations. This is a place where environmental issues hound the explorers of gas, oil and minerals. There are a lot of opportunities out there to be balanced with the preservation of such treasures. As Wyomingites, we are constantly faced with balancing these issues.
We stopped at a Buffalo jump ( a place natives used to push buffalo off cliffs) and heard stories of artifacts and actually found one. A funny little drama between my wife and I to hide the fact that we found and kept this really cool scraper tool. I am a knife guy after all but this is an especially cool treasure. I don’t think it is really old, but I am going to have it checked out. I think that it was a copy of an old design, but it is a totally cool tool. John, our guide had an older one and I have never seen anything like these old tools.
On our way out, we drove by the Boar’s Tusk, a very cool pinnacle formation on the way towards Farson where there is not a whole lot except for this really cool ice cream place. The Tusk is a darned decent landmark if you get lost out there. We spent about 8 hours in the desert that day and only skirted the northern end of it. We are now planning several trips to further explore this geological wonderland. Wyoming is known for Devil’s Tower and Yellowstone, but put this baby on your list! It is so worth it. There are many more sights there and I’m sure we will have more to share in the future.