The Red Desert

Saturday, June 19 was my birthday! My brother and sister-in-law asked me if I wanted to do anything special and I said “yes, I would like to go to the Red Desert”. They had given me a map of it and, while desolate, it sounded like an interesting place. Jen had to go out of town that afternoon for an overnight family function down in Colorado but she, Ellie (their corgi) and I went downtown Saturday morning to the Farmer’s Market, to see part of the “art walk” along the river and to get brunch from the Lander Bake Shop (a yummy quiche and an apple cake I think she called “Gerty Bread”).

My brother told me that the road in the Red Desert was rough, and it’s condition unpredictable, and that we should definitely take his F-150 truck, so after lunch we (he, Ellie and I) set off to explore the Red Desert.

Wikipedia describes the Red Desert as “a high altitude desert and sagebrush steppe comprising approximately 9,300 square miles”. This would make it roughly equal in size to all of Fremont County, which I have previously indicated is about the size of the state of Vermont. The Nature Conservancy calls the Red Desert “One of the last great high-elevation deserts left in the United States”. My road atlas indicates that the area we would be in is part of the Rocky Mountains, though as you will see it is not mountainous in the sense that you visualize the Rockies in Colorado.

(Photo credit: High Country News hcn.org)

We had driven along two “rough” borders of the Red Desert when we drove down to Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area – southwest on Route 28 between Atlantic City and Farson, and Route 191 South from Farson to Rock Springs. We drove in on a rough gravel road, which quickly became dirt and rock, and were transported into a vast open area with… “not much”. There were some elevation changes and several buttes and other formations sticking up from the otherwise seemingly flat surface. It was hot, dry and isolated – just what you’d expect a desert to be. I checked my altitude app periodically and while I don’t recall the exact numbers it seems like we were always up pretty high – 6,500 or more feet.

The map had indicated that we might see a wide range of critters but I mainly saw cattle (and what they were doing way out here I have no idea), some pronghorn antelope, not a big surprise there, and some wild mustangs:

There were also a few small birds and at least one hawk. Depending on the time of year there may have been migrating elk and other herds of animals but basically that was all I saw.

The map showed the road in a rough “W” shape and we drove in and out on one half of that (a “V”) and I believe my brother said that we covered 60 miles. There were some more picturesque things we could have seen but it would have involved a considerable amount of hiking which I wasn’t inclined to do – especially in the heat.

Nonetheless, it was very interesting, albeit remote, and I was glad we went. When I told some friends that my brother was taking me out into the Red Desert they all asked “is he bringing you back?” and I’m pleased to report that he did! In fact, once we got out to Route 28 we turned left and went back to the Mercantile in Farson for some more yummy ice cream.

One of the other interesting things about this area is that several well known trails cross it – the Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail and the California Trail, among others. On the way home from Farson my brother stopped at a monument which identified the “Parting of the Ways,” where one main trail parted and a traveler could go one of several separate routes depending on their ultimate destination.

There are still tracks ground into the soil showing where the original wagon trains traveled.