PLATTE RIVER COUNTRY AREAS:
Citizens' Proposal: 27,444 acres
Intensive Inventory: 25,000 acres
Wilderness Study Area: 22,245 acres
BLM Recommendation: 22,245 acres
Location and Access
The Ferris Mountains are located in northwestern Carbon County, about 40 miles north of Rawlins.
In the fall of 1905, Ethel Waxham Love gave this description of the Ferris Mountains as she headed north from Rawlins on a stagecoach: "Mountains were far away ahead of us, a range rising from the plains and sinking down again into them. Almost all the first day they were in sight..." (McPhee 1986).
Her initial view of this range--which was named for settler George Ferris--would have included prominent white limestone cliffs on the southern flank, red hogbacks, and thick strips of conifers. Had she wandered up those slopes, she would have found high meadows, secluded rugged canyons, and thick forest cover as well as panoramic views of the Ferris Sand Dunes, Seminoe and Green Mountains, Sweetwater Rocks, and the broad Sweetwater valley.
Elevation in the study area ranges from 6,580 feet near Whiskey Gap to 10,037 feet on Ferris Peak, and provides for a great diversity of plant and animal life. The Ferris Mountains provide habitat to herds of Bighorn Mountain Sheep and elk.
Designation of the Ferris Mountains as wilderness would add an ecosystem not currently represented in the wilderness system - that of the Wyoming Basin/Douglas Fir Forest ecosystem. Sagebrush grasslands, creeks lined with birch and cottonwood, and patches of Douglas-fir, limber pine and lodgepole pine dominate the lower ranges, while Englemann spruce and subalpine fir join the pines and Douglas-fir on the higher slopes. Rugged and varied terrain makes this area excellent country for hiking, hunting, mountaineering, and studying nature.
The Ferris Mountains provide crucial habitat for elk and mule deer (WG&F, 1991), and is also home to antelope, pine marten, mountain lion, coyote, and occasional white-tailed deer. Historical sightings were verified of the gray wolf in 1913 and the black-footed ferret in 1975, both federally listed as endangered species, in the Ferris Mountain area (WNDD,1993). A wide spectrum of birds, including golden eagles, prairie falcons, mountain bluebirds, green-tailed towhees, yellow-rumped warblers, ruby-crowned kinglets, and blue grouse nest in the secluded canyons, meadows, and steep limestone crags. The northern goshawk, a candidate for federal endangered/threatened listing is verified to be nesting in the area (WNDD, 1993). Calls of the poorwill and trills of the hermit thrush echo across the mountain slopes on summer evenings.
Sixty head of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep were released in the area in 1985. Due to poor lamb survival, Wyoming Game and Fish Department has recommended controlled burning. Once the improvements are complete, the agency will release additional bighorns in an effort to reestablish this important part of the native fauna. In this instance, the Citizens Coalition supports their efforts reestablishing the herd using controlled burning. Historically, bighorn sheep inhabited the Ferris Mountain and the surrounding plains, but they were extirpated in the late 1800s. A reintroduction of desert bighorns in the 1940's failed.
Unique and rare plants in the Ferris Mountain habitat include several species that are listed as candidates for federal protection such as a miners candle and devil's gate twin pod. Smooth goosefoot is considered most rare or threatened and is considered to extremely vulnerable to extinction in the State and is found in the sand dunes near the Ferris Mountains. Other plant species worthy of State protection due to their rarity are Bandegee's jacob's-ladder, Wyoming point-vetch, and bun milk-vetch (WNDD, 1993).
The Ferris Mountains are the source of some thirty watersheds. The undisturbed upper elevation watersheds provide high quality water to lower elevation ranchlands.
The Ferris Mountains are a geologists' playground. The Madison Formation is a particularly unique large limestone outcrop. This formation is a series of large limestone fins protruding from the south side of the Ferris Mountains and extends nearly the entire length of the WSA. The Madison formation can be seen for many miles away and contributes to the WSA's status as a state and regional landmark (BLM, 1991). Rock layers display 3 billion year-old red granite, black and green schist, geodes, and non-commercial amounts of corundum, malachite, and nephrite jade (BLM 1987), as well as fossil sponges, squid, and fish scales (Love 1991). Legend tells that Spanish Conquistadors once mined gold on the east end of the range. Small amounts of gold and copper were taken from the Babbs mine, which is still visible to the sharp eye, until the early 1950s (Raymond 1991). This scar has been reclaimed and no longer represents an intrusion into the area's natural appearance.
Native Americans collected chert for tool-making in the area, and left some evidence of their occupation. They also must have harvested abundant wild edible and medicinal plants, such as biscuitroot, yampa, current, Oregon grape, and alumroot. In more recent times, stagecoach robbers used a hideout of small caves near Young's Pass (Beebe 1973).