Sunday, August 24, 2008

Traversing the Red Desert

Our good friends Tom and Sara, had expressed an interest in coming on down to see the Red Desert. So it was with gladness that we received an e-mail from Tom about a visit and a possible tour.

We met them in Green River, at the pedestrian bridge, not where we had planned but one must be flexible. The traverse was to go from the LeBarge Road, east to Farson, followed by a loop to Boars Tusk, the White Mountain Petroglyphs, The Killpecker Sand Dunes, Steamboat Mountain, and Black Butte, (Too much for a day?).

Anyway, we headed North to Wyoming 28 where we made our first stop at the Morman Pioneer Ferry over the Green River. The dogs decided that a walk was in order so we strolled along the river. The bright green vegetation of the riparian floodplain contrasted with the harsh desert landscape. We glassed for birds but didn't notice any that we could recognize. After taking an image of Tom, Sara, and Benson on the ferry I asked Tom if they had any ancestors of the Morman faith. Got a definite negative on that.

Continuing on we drove past mile after mile of sparse clumps of sagebrush covering the barren landscape. Of all the deserts we have seen, the high desert of Wyoming might be the least inviting. Nowhere was there any sign of abandoned homesteads, until we reached the irrigated section around Farsen and Eden.

Heading south I missed the turnoff to Boars Tusk so we made a u turn and then headed east along a deteriorating county road. As we neared a blowout, (a place where the wind had eroded the road and then filled it with fine sand), I slowed the truck before plunging into the sand and getting stuck, (hmmmmm I forgot the tow rope).
Luckily four wheel drive got us out and Sara easily negotiated the bad spot in their Blazer.

As we topped a ridge, Boars Tusk, the Sand dunes, and Steamboat Mountain suddenly appeared. We stopped for photos and a herd of desert pronghorn raced away from us, sensing perhaps the soon to open hunting season. The road then headed down to the intersection where we turned south and then east to view the petroglyphs.

It was with disgust that we discovered recent vandalism as people had carved their names over the tops of the ancient sand pictures. perhaps that was why we had to walk a ways from a newly erected gate.

Afterwards we returned to the vehicles and then drove past Boars Tusk. I saw a road that I had never driven so we headed to the Sand Dune Wilderness study area where I promptly got stuck in a sand dune that had migrated across the road. The Killpecker sand dune field is the largest moving dune field in the US and is the second largest in the world!

At the Dune Off Road Vehicle area we were surprised at the large number of vehicles parked and at the number of four wheelers and dune buggies, probably twenty in all, ( A lot for Wyoming)! We ate lunch there and talked about multiple use and Moab, Utah, and conservation in general.

Back in the vehicles we left the sand dunes and headed to Black Butte. There we drove around the butte, which is actually an ancient volcanic neck, about half the size of Devils Tower. White posts marked the spots where peridot claims had been filed. One can only hope that the mining does not harm the beauty of the columnar jointing, thrusting into the desert skyline. Returning to the main road we passed an ancient stone house, really a ruin, much more primitive than lunas jacal in Big Bend National park.

As we passed some standing water we saw our first wild horses. two stallions standing proud among the forbidding landscape. Were they wondering if we would try to round them up or just watching us raise clouds of dust as we drove the road.

Blowout after blowout filled the road and we churned up huge billowing clouds of dust that blinded us. Tom and Sara's Blazer acted up as the air filter became clogged and thoughts of what it must be like to race across the desert filled my head. It was with relief that we neared the Jim Bridger Coal Mine and power plant and the road improved.

Being a little short on wisdom I turned the truck west along a new road, at least for us, and we were rewarded with a unique sight as Renita spotted a herd of desert elk bedded a few meters from the road! They were so much redder in color than Yellowstone elk, a subspecies or a product of the desert sun?

Taking a fork to the left we hoped to reach Superior but the road forked again and again, before narrowing along a steep acrophobic series of switchbacks! It was again with a deep feeling of relief that we safely reached the bottom! Did I say there were no guard rails? Renita and I decided it was not a road to take the fiver along.

Once we reached Superior the road had been oiled and we took a blacktop to Interstate 80. sixteen miles from Rock Springs. We relaxed at a Starbucks where we traded traveling stories with Tom and Sara as they entertained us with tales of their spring trip to France. Clear skies.

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