Places We Protect

Red Desert


View off a rocky, red ledge looking out at a vast deser
Honeycomb Buttes in Wyoming's Red Desert © Joe Kiesecker

The Red Desert is one of Wyoming’s gems—a place of astounding biodiversity and uniqueness.




Wyoming’s Red Desert is one of the last great high-elevation deserts left in the United States. Here time, wind and water have carved out colorful badlands, sandstone towers, deep canyons and shifting sand dunes. As an ancient inland sea, traces of long-extinct animals erode from deep beneath the fossil bed.

This is the only place where the Continental Divide splits and rejoins, forming an enormous basin where water collects rather than flowing into the Pacific or Atlantic oceans. The world's largest herd of desert elk can be found here, along with wagon ruts etched by pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail, and prehistoric rock art and Shoshone spiritual sites.

What to See: Plants 
The area is prime habitat for several high-priority plant species, including Cedar Rim thistle, large-fruited bladderpod, intermountain phacelia, compact gilia and Nelson’s milkvetch. Other plant communities include aspen, limber pine woodlands, mixed-grass prairie, Wyoming big sagebrush and greasewood.

What to See: Animals 
Many mammals and birds have adapted to life in the Red Desert’s high-elevation ecosystem. The site contains mountain plover breeding and nesting locations, active sage grouse leks, and year-round elk and crucial winter mule deer and pronghorn habitat. The Red Desert elk herd is the nation’s largest desert elk herd. The Chain Lakes provide wetland stopovers for migrating shorebirds, including avocets, ducks, killdeer, willets, and other waterfowl.

Why the Conservancy Selected this Site 
The Red Desert is one of Wyoming’s gems—a place of astounding biodiversity and uniqueness. But a dramatic increase in oil and gas development threatens all that is wild about the Red Desert. This development creates a network of roads, truck traffic, wells, and pipelines that alter the Red Desert’s landscape and wildlife.

What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing 
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oversees much of the arid Red Desert. By collaborating with agency and industry partners, and using our science-based methodologies to set conservation priorities, we can work together to protect the Red Desert’s wildness.




Red Desert

Map with marker: Southwest Wyoming within the Great Divide Basin


361,000 acres

Explore our work in this region