Red Desert Wild!
Seven wilderness proposal areas lie in the Red Desert region: Oregon Buttes (including Whitehorse Creek), Honeycomb Buttes (including Harris Slough), the Big Empty (including Joe Hay Rim and Bush Creek), The Pinnacles (including South Pinnacles WSA, Alkali Draw WSA, and Parnell Creek), East Sand Dunes (including Alkali Basin), Red Lake, and Buffalo Hump/Sand Dunes. Another area, Ferris Mountains, straddles the northeastern border of the Great Divide Basin, about 70 miles from these study areas, and is covered in the section on the `Platte River Country'.
Imagine a place with mile after mile of undulating white sand dunes. Towering above the dunes are massive volcanic buttes. Dig into the dunes and you can find snow and ice - even in the blazing heat of the August sun. Springs gush from the foot of the dunes creating sparkling lakes.
Eagles, hawks and falcons nest on and soar around the buttes. Hundreds of ducks and shorebirds frequent the lakes. Wait for twilight and you might catch a glimpse of a desert elk herd or thrill at a chorus of coyotes.
Imagine a place with a maze of candy-colored badlands - pink, red, purple, grey - a petrified sunset. Enter the maze and discover hundreds of caves and crevices. This one was filled with bones gathered and stockpiled by a pack rat. This one housed a bobcat last week. Duck! This one still houses a great-horned owl and its fuzzy young ones. Walk the ridges and look at snow-capped mountains a hundred miles away. Sift through the rocks at your feet to discover ancient buffalo scrapers, arrowheads and petrified tortoise shells. Scare a mixed herd of pronghorn antelope and wild horses out of a box canyon. Stare at night into a starry stillness - you couldn't find a bigger sky.
To most Americans, this is a description of a surreal landscape - some place too fantastic to believe. But conservationists in Wyoming know differently. What has been described is the Red Desert.
The Red Desert of Wyoming's Great Divide Basin is like no other place on Earth. Here, the Continental Divide splits to surround a basin of 2.25 million acres which drains to neither the Atlantic nor the Pacific. The Red Desert encompasses one of the last great undeveloped tracts of high desert in the United States, located in Southwestern Wyoming, in a variety of land forms such as red playa lakes dotted with bright green greasewood, barren areas of sheet erosion and painted badlands, volcanic necks and cones, intractable shifting sand dunes -- some which contain deposits of ice cells that feed pools and ponds at the base of large dunes, and fossil beds from an ancient inland sea.
Much of the Red Desert is still the same as when emigrants on the Oregon Trail passed through the Great Divide Basin or when Pony Express riders braved the trails of the desert. In recent history, the Red Desert still retains the tracks of the Oregon and Mormon Pioneer Trails, and the infamous Outlaw Trail. The Wyoming Red Desert has seen some ten thousand years of use by humans who knew this desert not as "wilderness", but as "home".
It is Wyoming's pure specimen of cold desert habitat and has one of the highest raptor densities in the United States. The Red Desert is now a vast home for abundant wildlife, feral horses, herds of livestock and a few hardy individuals who have the desert in their souls. Most significantly, the only desert elk herd in Wyoming, the Sands Elk Herd, flourishes here. The Red Desert provides a wealth of opportunities for recreation and important scientific study.
"...in the daytime when you are out there on the desert always looking in the distance for a moving animal--wild horses, antelope, or stray cattle or sheep--the distance is so great, with nothing but sagebrush hills and then the mountains, that words seem superfluous. When you are out there and it is dark and above you is the vast sky with a million twinkling diamonds, you feel so small that nothing you could say seems important. You want to be silent and just