Rawlins, WY: Wyoming's Red Desert

With no trails and few visitors, Wyoming's Red Desert is an explorer's paradise.
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With no trails and few visitors, Wyoming's Red Desert is an explorer's paradise.

This four-day, 30-mile cross-country backpacking trip explores one of America's highest deserts. The Red Desert is wedged into a rift valley called the Great Divide Basin. This is where the Continental Divide splits, forming the country's longest big game corridor. This proposed wilderness is home to at least 65 species of mammals, reptiles and birds, including prairie falcons, bighorn sheep, wild horses, the largest desert elk herd in the world, and 50,000 pronghorn antelope. WHEN TO GO: Late spring and early fall. Summers are scorching and winters are arctic. In any season, even moderate rain will make dirt roads impassible. GEAR: With rock-hard playa, a freestanding tent is a must (imagine putting stakes into concrete). Cache water in seven-gallon containers like the Reliance AquaTainer ($17, relianceproducts.com).
Mapped by Michael Behar

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 49.2

Waypoints

WPT001

Location: 41.0531807, -108.3263092

Trailhead. Ahead is a winter grazing area for elk, wild horses, and pronghorn.

WPT002

Location: 41.0625648, -108.3234329

Edge of Powder Rim and viewpoint north into Adobe Town Canyon

WPT003

Location: 41.0890274, -108.3022461

Top of manmade earthen dam at lake

WPT004

Location: 41.1014099, -108.3104706

Author spots wild horse

WPT005

Location: 41.1028938, -108.3106461

Skull Creek

WPT006

Location: 41.1117859, -108.3145065

Camp One

WPT007

Location: 41.1266823, -108.3137054

East Fork of Skull Creek

WPT008

Location: 41.1464767, -108.3078995

Jumble of barbed wire; possibly an old horse corral

WPT009

Location: 41.1516724, -108.306694

Main tributary of Skull Creek wash

WPT010

Location: 41.1581459, -108.2995224

Rocky overhand provides shade for midday water break

WPT011

Location: 41.1584549, -108.275177

Viewpoint

WPT012

Location: 41.1594582, -108.2747269

Shady lunch spot

WPT013

Location: 41.163456, -108.2705688

Trail skirts Skull Creek Rim with panoramic views east

WPT014

Location: 41.1735992, -108.2614899

Bizarre rock is tinted green and in the shape of a pterodactyl head

WPT015

Location: 41.1989326, -108.2491989

Good place to cache water prior to trip; head east for second night's campsite

WPT016

Location: 41.1980743, -108.242485

Camp 2

WPT017

Location: 41.204586, -108.2840652

Viewpoint of side canyon blocking our route across Monument Valley

WPT018

Location: 41.2084045, -108.2916031

Lunch break under large red boulder (good shade)

WPT019

Location: 41.2107506, -108.3036118

Overlook above Monument Valley

WPT020

Location: 41.2127914, -108.3171844

Another shady spot for a water break

WPT021

Location: 41.2293892, -108.3406677

Sand Creek

WPT022

Location: 41.2378235, -108.3575897

Cook Exploration jeep road

WPT023

Location: 41.2523613, -108.3736877

Camp Three

WPT024

Location: 41.2510109, -108.382782

Camp Three water drop; backtrack to main north-south route

WPT025

Location: 41.2554092, -108.3748245

Viewpoint: Car is visible at end point.

WPT026

Location: 41.2584267, -108.3763275

Drop packs: Branch off main route for side trip to slot canyon and cave

WPT027

Location: 41.2589035, -108.3796463

Mud cave

WPT028

Location: 41.2588043, -108.3808289

Side trips ends at viewpoint. From here, backtrack to main route, then continue south along the Adobe Town Rim

WPT029

Location: 41.2804794, -108.3792267

Trip endpoint