Stop at the Red Canyon Overlook 24 miles south of Lander on Highway 28 to enjoy one of the most scenic vistas in Wyoming. The canyon was formed some 60 million years ago during the uplift of the Wind River range to the west. As the sedimentary rocks tilted, the more easily erodible rocks were removed by the action of water, creating the canyon as it is seen today.
The long, grass-covered slopes on the west side of the canyon are part of the Permian Phosphoria formation, a marine deposit composed of limestone, sandstone, dolomite, siltstone, bedded chert and phosphorite. The less-resistant rocks above the chert were eroded.
The bottom of the canyon and the lower 300 feet of the east side are eroded into the Triassic Chugwater formation. This consists of brick red sandstone, shale, and siltstone, and being less resistant to erosion, was removed from the underlying Phosphoria chert. The bright red color of the Chugwater is due to a great amount of oxidized iron between and on the grains of the rock. It is this coloration that gives Red Canyon its name.
Red Canyon Rim, which forms the east side of the valley, is comprised of salmon-colored Jurassic Nugget sandstone. This sandstone was deposited during regression of ancient seas. It represents tidal flat and beach sedimentation and was cross-stratified during deposition on ancient back-beach sand dunes.
Although you can't quite see the spot over the canyon rim, the site of Wyoming's first commercial oil well, drilled in 1884, is a few miles to the northeast in the Dallas Dome oil field. The field has produced over ten million barrels of oil since its beginning over 100 years ago. The oil came from the Chugwater, Phosphoria, and Tensleep formations, two of which are visible in Red Canyon.
Besides its interesting geologic history, the canyon provides important wildlife habitat for elk, mule deer, and a host of small mammals and birds. Hunting, fishing, and viewing scenery are popular recreational uses of the canyon.
Land Ownership: The Nature Conservancy owns and operates the Red Canyon Ranch in the center of the canyon. The ranch produces native hay from the meadows on the canyon floor and grazes cattle on both the floor and surrounding slopes. The goal of The Nature Conservancy is to maintain the land in agricultural use and prevent fragmentation of wildlife habitat through subdivision development. Public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management surround most of the Red Canyon Ranch's private land. The Wyoming Game & Fish Department also owns land in the canyon which it has designated the Red Canyon Big Game Winter Range. The State of Wyoming owns parcels of land in the lower part of the canyon near the Little Popo Agie (pronounced po-po'-zha) River.