Is fatbiking one word or two? No matter… what you are about to read is about a bunch of horse shit.
I’ve always wanted to explore the Red Desert of Wyoming by bike and luckily my side-kick, Studd Pyles, was game. With topo maps in hand and a sliver of a plan he knows that when he rides with me, we are sure to find ourselves either nowhere or anywhere. Which is purdy much the same place, right?
The Red Desert is an amazing landscape located in southern Wyoming. The habitat ranges from sand dunes to rocky pinnacles and is home to some of North America’s most hidden treasures: the largest migratory herd of pronghorn antelope in the lower 48 states, the world’s largest herd of desert elk, and bands of wild horses. It also has the large living dune system in the United States.
The Oregon Buttes and Honeycomb Buttes are in the northwest part of the Red Desert, not far from where I live, so that’s where we headed.
An easy drive from our home in Lander, we left after work on a Friday and set up camp in time to watch the sunset over the Wind River Mountains. Oregon Buttes on the left.
Both days were long and relaxed rides because we found so many nooks and crannies to explore, vistas to enjoy and there was plenty of rock hounding.
We spent one day circumnavigating the Oregon Buttes and another day exploring the Honeycomb Buttes. Often in the Red Desert we find ourselves following wild horse trails. The stallions marks their territory with piles of horse shit. And they can get pretty big. You could high-center a vehicle on them! So that’s where Studd Pyles earned his handle: riding the range on his steel steed (Surly Pugsly).
On an evening recon, we ran into a bluff below our camp so instead of retracing our steps, we took a shortcut. My amazing pard’ner, my huckleberry, carried my bike up the steep slick rock because I was still technically sidelined from my ACL surgery.
“I never go for a walk without my bike.”
The sunsets are always pretty. The Oregon Buttes is a 5,700 acre Wilderness Study Area managed by the Bureau of Land Management. This pic is in the Whitehorse Creek area just north of Oregon Buttes.
Our mid morning start to circumnavigate the Oregon Buttes began on a wide county road, then we veered off onto two-track roads, then eventually we ended up a little lost – bushwhacking and bike pushing on cattle trails and up and down ravines. The Buttes are to Studd’s left.
This is high desert country, windswept and treeless. Except for the Oregon Buttes where there is a smattering of limber pine. The Oregon Trail runs north of the Oregon Buttes and the Buttes were a landmark for pioneers heading west.
Another view of the Buttes with my beloved Salsa Mukluk. If you are a rock hound, you will love this area. Once part of an inland sea, we found a shark’s tooth and the area is rich with small pieces of petrified wood. Fossils of palm trees are fairly common. Imagine, Wyoming with palm trees!
There are two Oregon Buttes, this is the north Butte.
Studd Pyles in the desert with black henbane. Black henbane is a noxious weed — but back in the Middle Ages it was widely used in Germany to augment the inebriating qualities of beer. The names of many German towns originate from the word Bilsen–henbane. Later on, the word was transformed to Pilsen to name the famous Pilsen beer. It is in the nightshade family and highly toxic so I wouldn’t recommend the practice nowadays!
Our second day of exploring was in the Honeycomb Buttes area. This area is difficult to access but worth the effort. It’s an area of maze-like badlands, pillars of rock and rich in bands of color. More than 50 million years ago massive turtles, crocodiles, fish and small mammals lived here in a boggy swamp.
An unexpected find was a natural spring – a nice place to stop for a rest.
The spring harbored a small thicket of wild roses.
Studd on his Surly ICT.
At the heart of the Red Desert is the Great Divide Basin—a large depression along the Continental Divide from which surface water does not flow out to either the Atlantic or the Pacific. Pictured here is Continental Peak and below is the area of Honeycomb Buttes.
The best time to visit is spring — summer is too dang hot. Wind will be your constant companion and water sources are few and far between so carry enough for your ride.
For more info on the Red Desert and Oregon Buttes area see map by the Wyoming Outdoor Council.
From the Oregon Buttes you can continue your trip to the historic mining towns of South Pass City and Atlantic City. There are some fun options for exploring by bike there as well, see my post Lost Mine Tour by Fat Bike.