Wind River Indian Reservation

Overview

Introduction

The empty and windswept Wind River Range, the tallest mountain range in the state, towers over this reservation, which is home to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes. The town of Riverton sits near the southeast corner of the state's only reservation, which encompasses more than 2.25 million acres/911,000 hectares of land. The main attractions are the annual powwows held at Fort Washakie, Crowheart, Ethete and Arapaho. In addition, Sun Dances are performed near Fort Washakie and Ethete in July. Visitors are welcome, but photography is prohibited. Also in Fort Washakie is the Midwest Gallery, housing a collection of Native American art. Sacajawea, the woman who served as a guide for Lewis and Clark, is reputedly buried west of Fort Washakie, and Washakie, the great Shoshone chief, is buried in the town's Old Military Cemetery. The presence of coins and cigarette butts on the graves isn't a sign of disrespect, although there's nothing at Sacajawea's grave to explain this. Locals tell us it's not litter, but part of a Native American tradition.

Just west of the reservation, near the town of Dubois, is Whiskey Mountain, famous for its bighorn sheep. Each winter, about 900 sheep descend from the high peaks to escape some of the snow and cold, making them much easier to view. The National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center in Dubois runs guided tours November-March (reserve in advance and be sure to dress appropriately for the extreme cold). The center's museum and gift shop are open daily in the summer months.

History buffs may want to make the trip to South Pass City, 25 mi/40 km south of the reservation. Named for the South Pass, a pioneer route through the Rockies, the town was the scene of a gold rush in the 1860s, then became a favorite hangout for outlaws, including Butch Cassidy. At the height of the rush, South Pass was the territory's largest city, with more than 2,000 residents in 1868 (one year after the Carissa Mine struck a rich vein). It is now the state's largest historic district. The South Pass City State Historic Site includes 25 buildings from the 1800s that are being restored, one of which is now a restaurant. The visitors center contains displays and a movie on the town's past. Visit in mid-July to experience the Gold Rush Days celebration, which features a vintage baseball game, a comedy shootout, demonstrations and fireworks.

The Red Desert, just south of the Wind River Mountains, encompasses about 660,000 acres/267,093 hectares and has no defined borders. Its open space, petroglyphs, ancient campsite rings, buttes and sand dunes make you feel as if you've stepped onto another planet. The desert is home to several animal species, including one of the largest desert elk herds in the country, pronghorn antelope, mule dear and wild horses. Those with an avian interest should visit the Seedskadee Wildlife Refuge to see sandhill cranes and great blue herons.

Visitors should also check out the Killpecker Sand Dunes, in the desert just north of Rock Springs. The dunes reach up to 150 ft/47 m high and are constantly changing as the wind blows eastward, making them the largest active sand dunes in North America. Wind River Indian Reservation begins 215 mi/345 km northwest of Cheyenne.

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