Wyoming's Bighorn Basin
A vast sagebrush steppe punctuated by multi-hued badlands typifies the barren beauty of the Bighorn Basin. Although impressive badlands are found in many areas of the Basin, other striking features can also be found. Impressive canyons descending the western slopes of the Bighorn Mountains, one of the deepest caves in North America, and an impressive juniper studded escarpment rising above the Bighorn River are some of the other features found in the Basin. In addition, the fabled Washakie and North Absaroka Wilderness areas, two of the largest and wildest wilderness areas in the country and home to the threatened grizzly bear descend to the Basin on its west side.
The Bighorn Basin is almost completely surrounded by mountains with the Absorakas and Bear Tooth Plateau to the west, the Owl Creek Mountains to the south, the Bighorns to the east and the Pryors to the north. It is only along the northern side between the Pryors and Bear Tooth Plateau that the Basin extends uninterrupted to the Great Plains of Montana. Since the Basin is practically surrounded by mountains, a large rain shadow exists over the area making it one of the driest areas in the State of Wyoming.
The Bighorn River is the major waterway in the Basin but other important rivers do exist including the Clarks Fork, Shoshone, and Greybull Rivers. All of the rivers provide extensive irrigation for crops such as alfalfa and sugar beets. Many of the Basin's residents work in agricultural related occupations. Petroleum and tourism are the other major economic stimuli of the region.
The Bighorn Basin is a geological wonderland. Its canyons, badlands, faults, synclines and anticlines have made the Basin one of the most desirable regions in the U.S. to teach geology students the principles of earth science. Numerous geologic field camps for major universities are located in the Basin.
Sheep Mountain, near Greybull is one of the best examples of an anticline found anywhere in the world because the Bighorn River has carved a canyon through the anticline exposing the folded rock layers. The Basin has produced impressive fossil discoveries including a Tyrannosaurus Rex which was recently excavated near Shell, Wyoming. In addition impressive caves are located in limestone layers on the west slope of the Bighorn Basin.
The stark beauty of the Basin is well represented in the proposed wilderness areas located there. The canyons and caves on the west slope of the Bighorns are highlighted in the areas of Alkali Creek, Medicine Lodge, Trapper Canyon, and Paint Rock Canyon. While the stunning badlands of the western Basin can be found in Bobcat Draw, Sheep Mountain, Red Butte and McCullough Peaks. The Honeycombs in the eastern Basin contains landforms that vary widely from heavily eroded badlands with unique features such as pillars and hoodoos, with this area being the only example still qualifying for wilderness. Astonishing juniper forested escarpments can be enjoyed by visitors in Cedar Mountain and Pryor Mountains. The undulating plains and deep draws so characteristic of the Basin are best represented in Buffalo Creek. Finally, the proposal includes small additions to the Washakie Wilderness in the Owl Creek drainage.