Land of Many Uses


The Red Desert has been a multiple-use landscape for thousands of years. Today, people use the Desert for everything from backcountry adventures to oil and gas production.

The majority of these lands are federal public lands, owned by all Americans and managed by the Bureau of Land Management for a diversity of purposes. Due to its Serengeti-like wealth of big game, as far back as 1898 this area was proposed to be set aside as a national winter game preserve.

South Pass City State Historic Site at the Desert’s northern edge is a historic “ghost town” from the gold rush days of the late 1800s, and old stage and freight roads leading north to that area traverse the Desert’s sagebrush. Abandoned ranches dot the landscape as testament to the difficulties of eking out a living on this rugged land.

Currently, wild horse herds are managed here to assure range health, and historic trails and Native American cultural sites are protected for their national heritage values.

Today, much of the public land here is leased for grazing, with large “allotments” required to support the scattered cattle. Visitors may encounter ranchers checking their fences, hunters scouting their camps or oil and gas workers near the Sand Dunes servicing wells.

Wild horses in the Red Desert. Image: Kathy Lichtendahl.