Red Canyon Historical Overview
An Abandoned Ranch in Red Canyon
The Red Canyon of Fall River County, South Dakota was first settled around 1890, when the city of Edgemont was formed. Much of the rock used for early buildings in Edgemont came from a quarry at the mouth of Red Canyon, about 5 miles north of town. Since then, the canyon has mostly been used for ranching. The establishment of Edgemont, though, was preceded by a furor of activity in 1876, when the Cheyenne to Deadwood Stage Line was established. The original route ran through Red Canyon, with the Red Canyon Station built at the mouth of the canyon. It did not take long before robbers learned to take advantage of the natural cover of the canyon to launch numerous attacks on the stagecoaches that passed through, sometimes carrying gold shipments. One sign posted at the mouth of the canyon said "Look to your rifles well, for this is the canyon of Hell, the Red Canyon". Also near the entrance was another sign that stated "Abandon hope all ye who enter here." The attacks became so bad that the Army established a small post at the mouth of the canyon. The frequency and severity of the attacks led to the canyon route being abandoned in 1877 for a safer route. There are still inscriptions in the canyon walls made by stagecoach passengers.
Red Canyon Characteristics
An unusual rock formation near Red Canyon Road
Red Canyon drains a large area in northern Fall River County, and an even larger area in Custer County. Numerous side canyons and streams feed Red Canyon Creek. But, there is generally not much stream flow, as the whole area is semi-arid. Craven Canyon, to the west, is probably the largest branch of Red Canyon. The altitude of the canyon floor at the mouth is about 3,500 feet, and rises to about 3,900 feet where it crosses into Custer County. The canyon rim varies greatly in rise above the floor, ranging from 200 to 800 feet. The rock in the canyon consists primarily of sandstone, shale and limestone. Matias Peak is the highest summit on the edge of the canyon, but cannot be seen from Red Canyon Road through much of the canyon due to the high walls.
Much of the land in and around the canyon is public land, managed by the National Forest Service. Ponderosa pines, conifers, and cottonwoods are the most common types of trees in and around the canyon. Grass grows in most areas, though sagebrush, cactus and yucca are also common. Much of the area was affected by major forest fires in 2012.
The Scenic Lower Red Canyon
Ancient Petroglyphs at This Location
The most scenic area of Red Canyon is just north of Edgemont, along Red Canyon Road. Red Canyon Road is 3.4 miles north of Edgemont, where it intersects with Highway 18. Red Canyon Road is about 9 miles long from Highway 18 to the north end at Pilger Mountain Road (Road 12). The north end can be accessed by County Road 12. It is 4.9 miles from Highway 89. For those traveling from Hot Springs, it is 10.6 miles to the junction of highways 18 & 89, then .9 mile north to the County Road 12 junction.
Visitors to Red Canyon can enjoy beautiful rock formations, occasional wildlife along the road and undeveloped historical sites. For those willing to take the time to explore the cliffs on public lands, ancient petroglyphs and pictographs can sometimes be found. There are some locations on the canyon walls, where one can still see the inscriptions of those stagecoach passengers of 1876-1877. Visitors and explorers in Red Canyon need to respect private land owners’ rights.
The photo to the left shows some ancient petroglyphs on the rock
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