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Backpacker Magazine – September 2008

The Red Zone: Wyoming's Red Desert

As conservationists and energy developers fight over Wyoming's Red Desert, one thing is certain: There's no time like the present to hike through its unreal geography.

by: Michael Behar, Photos by Mike Sakas

Erik Molvar leads the way through Adobe Town.
Erik Molvar leads the way through Adobe Town.
The author inspects the remains of a bighorn sheep.
The author inspects the remains of a bighorn sheep.
Eons of water erosion created these hoodoos.
Eons of water erosion created these hoodoos.
Wild horses enjoy expansive terrain in Adobe Town.
Wild horses enjoy expansive terrain in Adobe Town.
With no trails, the author's party creates its own route through twisted canyons.
With no trails, the author's party creates its own route through twisted canyons.
Erik Molvar cooks dinner in Adobe Town.
Erik Molvar cooks dinner in Adobe Town.
Red Desert oil would satisfy U.S. needs for six weeks.
Red Desert oil would satisfy U.S. needs for six weeks.

photo iconFor more photos, video, a tracklog of the route, and waypoints for strategic water caches,
go to backpacker.com/reddesert.

In the morning, we dip below Skull Creek Rim and attempt to cross Monument Valley, a scaled-down version of the famed Navajo park on the Utah/Arizona border. "It's a longer route, but there's a lot more to look at," says Molvar. If we get through. "We're cliffed-out," Molvar calls out while peering over the ledge of a 100-foot-drop. From our perch, the landscape looks like a cross-section of an anthill. A byzantine tangle of slot canyons blocks our route. They are too deep and narrow to see bottom. We would likely wander for hours trying to find an unobstructed passage. Nevertheless, it's a stunning spot for a water break and a view well worth the extra quarter-mile backtrack.

It's getting late, and Camp Three is still at least fours hours away. To make up time, we plot a wide berth around Monument Valley and beeline across four miles of undulating sand dunes. "These are called stationary dunes," explains Molvar. "There is just enough vegetation on them to keep them in one place." This is good news for us because we're trudging directly into a searing 30-mph headwind. A harem of wild horses trots to the top of a nearby dune and stops to stare at us. The extreme aridity desiccates my lungs, and after 30 minutes it reduces my voice to a whisper. We scrunch beneath a narrow ledge to rest in the shade before continuing onward.

Molvar is pleased when we reach Camp Three. It lies in a natural amphitheater protected from the howling wind. It's harsh country, to be sure. But like the greatest wilderness areas, the Red Desert offers rewards commensurate with the effort. And I hope it always will.




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READERS COMMENTS

Rdsjaffuer;af
Oct 06, 2010

agkljaltrhwfjlsdmcalroiwdlasmflfesira ajsiotjsaiofjlaioteiotji

Rd;stajot
Oct 06, 2010

Sally Haverly
Feb 08, 2009

Visit the Bureau of Land Management Office in Rock Springs and they will provide you with directions and maps.

Maxine Leckie
Oct 24, 2008

I have tried in vain to find Adobe Town twice. The roads are totally unmarked and there are a jillion gas and oil roads that are not on the BLM maps.
It's not an easy place to find.

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