Cultural Lands


Since time immemorial the Red Desert has been an important home, hunting area, and spiritual center.

The most recent indigenous inhabitants were the Shoshone and Ute, although many other Great Basin and Plains tribes came through the area such as the Arapaho, Lakota and Cheyenne. For the Shoshone people, the Red Desert has two names. The first is “the place where God ran out of mountains.” The second name, “land of many ponies,” relates to the major change in native cultures caused by the introduction of the horse. The Shoshone and the Ute tribes were among the first to develop horse-based commerce that stretched for miles across the Great Basin of Wyoming where the Red Desert is located. The area is the ancestral hunting grounds for many tribes and contains numerous cultural and holy sites.

Cedar Canyon Petroglyphs. Image: Amber Wilson.

Scattered throughout the landscape are thousand-year-old rock art sites, and stone circles with spiritual significance.

Tipi ring. Image: Ken Driese.

Tipi rings, outlining old campsites, are evident throughout the region. The dramatic Boar’s Tusk is strongly associated with the origins of Shoshone culture. The Indian Gap Trail, passing through Indian Gap, connected the Ute tribes further south and west in Utah and Colorado with the Shoshone in the Wind River Basin. Nearby on the sheer face of Steamboat Mountain, was a favored “Buffalo Jump” hunting area for Native Americans.

“Whereas, the Northern Arapaho Business Council considers the Jack Morrow Hills Study Area of the Red Desert as a valuable cultural landscape and an important part of our people’s heritage.

Northern Arapaho Business Council Resolution, Ethete, Wyoming, June 6, 2003

“The Jack Morrow Hills Study Area of Wyoming’s Red Desert has been an important cultural landscape for the Shoshone Nation and our ancestors for thousands of years.”

Letter from the Eastern Shoshone Business Council, Ft. Washakie, Wyoming, May 6, 2003