Rainbow Snake & the Red Desert

By Paul Taylor

(A creation story inspired by Aboriginal, American Indian culture and science)

Paul Taylor, storyteller, musician, is mentored by Yidumduma Bill Harney, custodian of the Wardaman Aboriginal people of Northern Australia.  He has had a continuous relationship with this Elder for over 20 years.

This story was inspired principally by the Wardaman Aboriginal creation story, combined with general Aboriginal and Native American mythology and then the Geology, Biology of our beautiful Wyoming. The Dreamtime is the spiritual Creation period for Australia’s Aboriginal Peoples. The Spirit Ancestors sang and gave birth to the land, the people, the plants, birds, animals, and insects. The spiritual essence of the Dreamtime exists today in all the natural world and is evidence of the Dreamtime. This essence is true for all the 700 distinct Aboriginal cultures. Their individual stories vary in detail as each of their landscapes are unique. They have a unique story for every place on their land. Nothing is nothing. The Rainbow Serpent, Snake, or simply Rainbow, is a major Spirit Ancestor for Aboriginal cultural traditions throughout Australia. Rainbow is connected to the core of the Earth, to water, the weather, earthquakes, volcanoes, and the folding and shaping of the mountains and rivers. The Turtle Lady is a major Spirit Ancestor for Native America credited in many traditions with creating the North American continent. She is often referred to as Mother Earth. Nardi, Sky Boss, Star Man, is a principal Spirit Ancestor along with Rainbow, for the Wardaman Aboriginal People.  He has been referred to as Father Sky.

Thanks to Erik Molvar, Jen Mayer, UW Library, Peter Shive, Neil Humphries for their invaluable research assistance. Special thanks the BCA for their dedicated work in preserving our Red Desert and all our special places.


In the beginning the Earth was completely covered with water.

The giant Rainbow Serpent came up from the core of the earth and created the oceans all over the world. Rainbow fell in love with the Turtle Lady and they decided to get married and had many Spirit Children in the water.  Everybody lived in the water for a long time.

Turtle Lady then created and moved onto the first land. When Turtle Lady moved onto land, there was somebody watching her.  He was Nardi, a long, tall, skinny fellow who was the Sky Boss, the Star Man. He came down from the sky with his Spider Web String and landed next to Turtle Lady.

They immediately fell in love and decided to get married. They had many Spirit Children all over the land.  Now there were both Children in the water and on the land and Turtle Lady had two husbands.

On the land, Nardi and Turtle Lady taught many songs and dances to their Children, teaching them how to care for the land and each other.

WANGGA SONG                                

deyi nalarr yarne deyi nalan deyi  

Rainbow awoke from the ocean and became very angry that Turtle Lady had taken a second husband and had given birth to many children on the land.

Rainbow sang a powerful spiritual song and lifted up the ocean. Rainbow charged the land and a huge flood came onto the land. The Children and Turtle Lady all started running inland and to the East. Nardi, the Sky Boss, was so tall he was able to walk with his arms above the water and scoop many of his Children up and put them on the back of Turtle Lady.

Rainbow became even angrier.

Rainbow dove deep under the land and pushed up the land in humps to block the Children. In so doing Rainbow created the many chains of the Rocky Mountains. As Rainbow pushed the water inland, filling the valleys, the Children took refuge on many mountain ranges as they moved East to what is today called the Wind River Range, then to the Medicine Bows and finally to the edge of the mountains, the Laramie Range.

The remaining Spirit Children quickly scrambled to climb on the back of their mother, Turtle Lady at this beautiful place here called Vedauwoo. Rainbow was still angry with Turtle Lady and all her Spirit Children and forced more water East. The brave Beaver Children stepped forward. They were the Spirit Children of Turtle Lady and Nardi who later changed into the Beaver. They quickly sang and made a magic Medicine Bow and 3 magic arrows.  They shot Rainbow 3 times, cutting him each time.

Rainbow shed his skin and his shadow left his body and he slid back to the West as all the floodwater drained away.  Rainbows skin changed into rocks you see around you, Turtle Lady changed into Turtle Rock here before you. The Children moved down from the back of their mother and sang and danced in celebration of the end of the flood. As they danced some of the Children changed into the many plants, birds, animals and insects of this beautiful place.

Wangga Song 2

nangala nangala deyi, deyi nangala deyi 


As they danced some of the Children changed into the plants that we see here today–the Pines, Aspens, Douglas Firs, the Threetip Sage, Junegrass and all the beautiful Flowers. As they changed, their shadows went up into the Stars and into the Tail of Rainbow Rock, which today is called Reynolds Hill with its many long, tall rocks all standing together, a reminder to all of the brave Plant Children.

As they danced, some of the Children changed into the insects that we know to this day–the Ants, Spiders, Beetles and Butterflies.  As they changed, their shadows went into the Stars with Nardi and into Rainbow’s Body Rock that today is known as Valley Massif, a reminder to all of us of the courage of the Insect Children who teach us how to work together.

As they danced, some of the Children changed into the birds and animals we know to this day–the Falcons, Eagles and Finches, the Beavers, Coyotes and Mountain Lions, the Chipmunks, Prairie Dogs and Squirrels.  As they changed, their shadows went up into the Stars and into the Head of Rainbow Rock that today is known as Poland Hill

As they changed, the Coyote sang out, mourning the dead Children, and the remaining Spirit Children changed into the present day people, who are us.


Hit three times with the Magic Arrows, Rainbow was severely wounded and bleeding. Rainbow fled from here with the floodwater to the West. He slid towards the Medicine Bow Range carving out the Big Hollow. He moved further West around the Range carving out the Ancient Green River and stopped once, out of breath.  He rested; panting profusely he left behind the famous wild Wyoming wind at this place we now call Arlington.

He retreated further West along the Ancient Green River to come to rest, finally curling up around himself, creating the Ancient Lake Gosiute.

Here Rainbow fell asleep.  As he slept and slept and slept, Lake Gosiute drained and drained and drained. Rainbows wounds were now exposed and he bled and bled and bled.  As the Lake drained Rainbow created what is today called the Great Divide Basin and Rainbow’s blood formed the famous Red Desert.

Rainbow went into a deep sleep, his wounds began to heal, the land warmed and became drier and drier and drier. Rainbow’s ocean floodwater filling Lake Gosiute was drying up, leaving salt everywhere. A serious drought came to the land.

The Spirit Children now became fearful and started fighting over the remaining water.  The Frog Children started stealing water, filling their bellies as full as they could and hiding underground. The Crocodile, Turtle and Fish Children started burying water in secret places. The Turtle Children hid water in their shells, which also protected them from the searing heat.

Rainbow awoke and was very angry with the Spirit Children for stealing the water.

In his rage and pain, he began writhing, blood spurted from his wounds and with a deep breath, he brought forth a huge windstorm of sand to bury the children.

The Spirit Children all came together and sang and danced their most powerful song to drive away the winds and to calm and soothe Rainbow.

Gujingga Song  

waninmarlan dimarlan dimarlan gijburruyu


As the Children sang and danced Rainbow calmed and fell back asleep. As they sang and danced they witnessed how the land had changed to what we see today. As they danced they saw Rainbow’s windstorm had created great Sand Dunes. Today these are called the famous Killpecker and Ferris Sand Dunes. They saw how the stolen water is still trapped and hidden in the sand dunes, and in other places throughout the Red Desert, just below the surface and deeper underground in what is today called Black Trona Water deposits, full of Rainbow’s salt from his floodwater.

As they danced they saw the place where Rainbows blood, in his writhing fury had spurted to the North to form the fabulous Honey Comb Buttes.

As they danced the greedy Frog Children changed into the Spadefoot Toads who to this day hibernate underground with their bellies full of water in times of drought.

As they danced some of the children changed into Crocodiles, Turtles and Fish and were trapped forever underground to become the amazing fossils we find throughout the Red Desert. Today you may even find Turtle Shells left behind as proof of this story.

Today Rainbow sometimes throws a lightning bolt hitting the Great Sand Dunes, which finds a vein of that stolen trapped water. He leaves behind a beautiful blue-green crystal, a frozen lightning bolt, a reminder to the present day people to always share the water.

As the Spirit Children all changed their shadows went up into the Stars to be with their father Nardi.


Rainbow slept and the land continued to dry. Some of the Spirit Children headed southwards searching for any water. The only water left was very salty, leftover from Rainbow’s floodwater. The water made the Children delirious and confused.   Then some very strange things started to happen.

The Burrowing Owl Boys fell in love and married their sisters the Prairie Dog Girls. The Pygmy Rabbit Girls fell in love and married their brothers the Sage Grouse Boys.  The Badger Boys married their cousins the Rock Wren Girls, and   then starting chasing their other cousins, the Prairie Falcon Girls.

This wild gathering scared the Antelope Children who ran back up North searching for their mother Turtle Lady.

Rainbow awoke and was furious with the Children for marrying their relatives. He dove down deep into the ground and picked up some hot earth mud, hit the surface and spat it at the Children.  They fled in all directions.  He dove again and again each time returning and spitting more hot mud. He hit many of the Children paralyzing them in their tracks. Nardi their Father came down from the sky and quickly made some Shield Hats for the Prairie Dog Children out of his spider web string. He placed them on their heads for protection from the hot mud.

Rainbow then spotted the Antelope Children, who running scared, had wandered far from their homeland. Rainbow was further outraged. Now he fully awoke from his long slumber and chased the Antelope Children. Rainbow brought a massive storm throwing Lightning Bolts trying to turn the Children around.

The Antelope Children fled even farther North. As Rainbow chased he carved out the present day Green River. At one place he almost cornered them squeezing them into a trap with the River on both sides. This place today is known as Trapper’s Point. With mighty sweeps of his tail Rainbow pushed up the Wind River and Wyoming Ranges even higher trying to funnel the Children into another trap.

The Antelope Children rushed further North to a place today known as Yellowstone. Here Rainbow was able to head them off, diving deep underground and creating Yellowstone Lake to stop the Children in their tracks.

Rainbow then stayed underground waiting, hiding, listening for the footsteps of the Antelope Children. He warmed the underwater, coming close to the surface, shooting steam breath warnings to the Children not to come any further. Then one of the Children fell into the hot water and was swallowed by Rainbow. All the Antelope Children immediately turned and ran for home.

Back at the Red Desert all the remaining Spirit Children had come together at the place where the Children were paralyzed by Rainbow’s mud.

They all sang and danced in honor of the dead. They sang and danced to call home their beloved Antelope cousins and in celebration that Rainbow had moved on.

Gujingga Song 2

gunudjarri mardbamardba mardbamardba


As they danced, some of the Children changed into the birds and animals we know to this day in the Red Desert. As they danced they saw their relatives covered with Rainbow’s mud change into the many beautiful rock formations of what is today called Adobe Town. The rim of this amazing place shows the Burrowing Owl, the Sage Grouse, and Pygmy Rabbit Children all standing frozen in a vast array of Rainbow mud sculptures, clusters of natural pillars, palisades, arches, and monuments today we call Hoodoos. The Prairie Dog Children can be seen today with their Headdress Shields, standing pinnacles keeping watch along the Adobe Town Rim.

As the Children danced their mother Turtle Lady moved to a hill where Rainbow had spat his hot mud. She stood up tall on that hill with one of the Sage Children by her side. She lit a fire stick as a beacon, a lighthouse for the Antelope Children to return. This place today is called Boar’s Tusk.

As the Children danced the Sage Children also heavy with Rainbow’s mud, followed their Mother’s lead and stood with fire sticks to signal the Antelope children home. One by one the Antelope Children picked up the signals and returned.

One by one, the Antelope Spirit Children entered their Red Desert homeland and changed into the present day Antelope. Today they are great runners, who continue to their fantastic migration back and forth to Yellowstone every year, still searching for their lost cousin.

As the Children danced the Sage Children changed into vast Sagebrush colonies we see throughout the Red Desert. Today they provide food for their Antelope cousins. As the Sage Children changed, their shadows came together with Rainbow’s hot mud and holding their fire sticks, went to form the most unusual and fascinating Leucite Hills. Their fire sticks today can be seen sprinkled throughout the Leucite Hills and the Desert as tiny fragments of Mica, shiny rock.

As everything changed the shadows of the Children went up into the Stars to be with their father Nardi



As everything changed to what we see today the remaining Spirit Children changed into the present day people, who are us.

Today the present day people travel to these special places and see the proof of this story.

We can go to the Red Desert, to the Great Sand Dunes and we may find one of Rainbow’s Frozen Lightning Bolts, beautiful blue-green crystals. We may find the fossils of the Crocodile, Turtle and Fish Children, forever buried by Rainbow’s Windstorm. We may find their hidden water in the Sand Dunes and throughout the Red Desert in the Black Trona Water buried deep underground. We can see the Spadefoot Toad who fills his belly and buries himself underground in times of drought. He reminds us not to be greedy and always share the water.

We can go to Adobe Town, and see the Rainbow hot mud sculptures of the Burrowing Owl, the Sage Grouse, and the Pygmy Rabbit Children, that we call Hoodoos. We can see the Prairie Dog Children with their Shield Headdresses all standing witness to this story, covered with Rainbow’s mud. We can see the Sage Grouse with their extravagant Wedding Dance, reminding us to be careful about whom we marry.

We can watch the great migration of the Antelope back and forth to Yellowstone each year, who still long for their lost cousin.

We can see the great outcrops of the Sage Children who offer themselves as food for the Antelope for their great journey. We can see the unusual Leucite Hills, made of Rainbow’s hot mud and sprinkled with Mica, the fire sticks of the Sage Children.

Today we can see that place called Boars Tusk, a monument, a lighthouse for the migrating Antelope to return each year. We can see our mother Turtle Lady there with one of her Sage Children by her side, a reminder to the present day Children never to stray too far from home and never forget your family.

At night we can camp in this very special place called the Red Desert. We can look up and see this story in the Stars in the Night Sky. We can see the shadows of the Spirit Children with their father Nardi keeping watch over us, reminding us to care for this magical place.

As the present day people we can travel home from the Red Desert through Arlington and feel Rainbow’s Wild Breath Wind.

As the present day people we gather here at this special place called Vedauwoo. We see the story again here in the rocks, and in the land. We see our Mother yet again, right here in this rock before you, Turtle Rock.

And far away in that place we call Yellowstone, we can see and feel Rainbow keeping watch, resting, simmering, spurting, reminding us to pay attention to the land and never forget this story.


In the Land of Earthborn Spirits

By Susan Moldenhauer

Twenty miles east of Laramie, WY is a place called Vedauwoo, a Precambric wrinkle in the earth where, over the millennia, natural forces sculpted the rocky oasis. Its name comes from the Arapaho word for “earthborn” – bito’o’wu. For me, it is a place to further my exploration into the metaphors for the spiritual made manifest in light and shadow, human presence, and moments captured photographically. My images are composed at the time of digital capture and transformed into monochromatic, poetic expressions.

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If you have been suddenly captivated by a series of photographs on the University of Wyoming campus or around Laramie, chances are you were bearing witness to the artistic brilliance of Susan Moldenhauer, Director and Chief Curator of the University of Wyoming Art Museum since 1991. We at Open Window are very pleased to feature her work as it graces the covers and interior of Issue 5. Her series of photos, “In the Land of Earthborn Spirits” exemplify the poetic and living experience of light and shadow, form and substance, that characterizes her work.

Over the span of her career, Susan Moldenhauer began her education as an artist with a BFA from Northern Illinois University and earned an MFA in Photography from Penn State University, where as a graduate student, she had the opportunity to serve as director of a gallery showing the work of photographers from across the nation, and went on to run two other galleries before graduating and spending five years as Director of the Second Street Gallery in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Since her arrival at the University of Wyoming in 1991, Moldenhauer has devoted her career to ensuring the quality and excellence of the Art Museum’s collections and programs, and as an artist herself, she is involved in a number of collaborative projects. She believes that the experience of art across all genres is a place where humanity, intellect, and the ability to imagine the yet unknown naturally intersect, and can create personal connections across myriad cultures and communities.

Moldenhauer’s photographs are hauntingly lovely and evoke a depth and even a sentience of place that one might seek a thousand years in the work of other artists and never find. Her philosophy of landscape and photography is one of authenticity, a sense of the moment, and allowing nature to present itself to the camera as would a human subject. She does not frame her shots, nor does she crop or alter them, but rather offers them up as a spiritual and emotional experience that portrays a living moment for the viewer. In this way, her photos reflect the authenticity of the subject; she feels the composition of light and shadow through the lens, as do we. This is, perhaps, why her photographs seem to breathe into the space they inhabit—not as a finite, wall-bound depiction of a moment, but as a living piece of the world around us.

In 2012, Moldenhauer completed an art project in which she, along with Wendy Bredehoft and Margaret Wilson, traveled to and variously interpreted the British Museum, Fort Laramie, and UCross through photographs, dance, and multimedia works of art. This project became a series of exhibition and the book, Sequencing Through Time and Place, and is available via wyooutpost@me.com.

This year, the three women travel to Venice, Italy to begin a new project, experiencing and rendering Venice from the artistic perspectives of Thomas Moran. We look greatly forward to the fruit of such a rich adventure.

–Lori Howe, EIC, Open Window Review

Categories: Issue 5, Non-Fiction | Leave a comment

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