Rare Red Desert Sheep

The imperiled and rarely seen Red Desert Sheep. Southern Red desert, Wyoming. Oves rubrum deserti

Wyoming’s Red Desert, in the south-central part of the state is largely an empty place on most maps; high sagebrush desert that’s demarcated by I80, dividing the northern and southern halves. Anyone who’s traveled the interstate across Wyoming knows that you cross the Continental Divide twice, an oddity because the Great Divide Basin is rimmed by the great Divide; water doesn’t flow out of the self-contained basin. While photographing the southern Red Desert in the spring of 2009, I encountered a herd of the seldom seen, rare Red Desert sheep (RDS), a species that was released to the desert by Spanish conquistadors around 1400 A.D. The black sheep in this image is the most rare – of the roughly 2,000 sheep known to exist, biologists estimate that 20 are the black phase. The white sheep actually seem to surround the lone black sheep, using safety in numbers to protect the special member of the herd. RDS have evolved to graze almost entirely on Wyoming big sagebrush, the dominant plant in the ecosystem. Their primary threat is the mutton poacher, lonely cowboys joyriding on horseback and in Dodge pickups, taking potshots at a herd of these helpless creatures. It is said that Wyoming is where “men are men and sheep are nervous” a phrase that began because of the despicable poachers. One of the least charismatic of the Red Desert species, RDS don’t benefit from the support of advocacy groups or government agencies. They are the rogue sagebrush grazers, noble symbols of the old West, back when John Wayne and Henry Fonda ruled the silver cinema. In closing, Happy April Fool’s Day!

Wilderphobia Definition

This came from a friend in Cody, Wyoming:


1. Being allergic or hostile to creation of any new wilderness area
2. Fear of any open space not delineated by a fence, a road, a pipeline, an ATV track, a cow trail, or power line
2-a. Fear that said tract won’t generate any tangible revenue because it lacks delineation and manmade structures
3. Total rejection of the notion that sometimes the highest and best use of something is to just leave it alone…

Vernacular: A psychological syndrome common in areas where there are still large tracts of federal public land that resemble America before the Eurocentric -White Man claimed it then deeded it part and parcel, initially to the wealthiest aristocrats, the highest bidders; or allowed it to be taken by force from the Natives; or just plain squatted on it and built fence because God told them it was OK to do that (Genesis 1:20-27). Ownership was thereby proclaimed because there were little pieces of paper at the Courthouses that said so. The entirely made-up notion prevailed that land was only worth something if somebody owned it or extracted something from it (see Manifest Destiny). Unfortunately, or fortunately, interior North America was bigger than anyone realized, and the greedy White Man couldn’t get to all the land and claim it and stake it and write new scriptures (metes and bounds) before it occurred to the Wise Men that maybe we ought to set some of this aside so the advancing Robber Barons and avaricious settlers can’t touch it. (Washburn, Hayden et al; Yellowstone, 1871)

Wilderphobia is commonly expressed these days as a neurotic desire to exert control over those remaining lands because they belong to Them , not Us , when really it’s all just Us…