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Desert National Wildlife Range

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General Information

Description - The Desert Range encompasses 1.5 million acres of diverse Mojave Desert in southern Nevada. It is the largest national wildlife refuge in the 48 contiguous states. The Range contains six major mountain ranges, the highest rising from 2,500-foot valleys to nearly 10,000 feet. Annual rainfall ranges from less than 4 inches on the valley floors to over 15 inches on the highest peaks. Of the six mountain ranges, the Sheep Range is the highest and most scenic, and it supports the greatest diversity of wildlife and vegetation types.

Perpetuating the desert bighorn sheep and its habitat is the most important objective. Mule deer, coyotes, badgers, bobcats, foxes, and an occasional mountain lion are the larger mammals sharing this habitat with the bighorn sheep. Over 260 species of birds have been identified on the Range. Examples are phainopepla, roadrunner, pinyon jay, house finch, loggerhead shrike, red-tailed hawk, and golden eagle.

Creosote bush and white bursage are dominant shrubs in the hottest, low elevations of the Range. A couple thousand feet above the valley, Mojave yucca and cactus become abundant. Near 6,000 feet at the upper edge of the desert shrub communities, blackbrush and Joshua tree become abundant.

Desert bighorn often inhabit the upper elevations of this community, as do loggerhead shrikes, cactus wrens, and sage sparrows. Lizards are common at the lower elevations, as are ravens, LeCont's thrashers, and black-throated sparrows.

An anomaly in these communities is the habitat at Corn Creek. Here, springs turn the desert into an oasis attracting over 200 species of birds.

Above 6,000 feet, Joshua trees become scarce and are replaced by single-leaf pinyon and Utah juniper. Big sagebrush is the most common shrub. Desert bighorn and mule deer inhabit the woodlands when springs are close or vegetation is lush from recent range. Pinyon jay, common bushtit, and broad-tailed hummingbirds are common in the desert woodlands.

Attractions - Camping and backpacking: These activities are permitted year round. All camps, except backpack camps must be located within 100 feet of designated roads. Camping within 1/4 mile or within sight of any water holes or spring is prohibited.

Roadside camping is permitted along any of the trails that are posted open to vehicles. Camp elevation should be adjusted according to seasonal conditions. The most popular backpacking areas are Hidden Forest Canyon and Sawmill Canyon. Both are approximately 5 miles long and terminate at springs located in the coniferous forest vegetative type. The opportunity to observe wildlife, except for desert bighorn sheep, at these springs is good.

Roadside campers and backpackers alike must bring their own water. Fresh water is not available at Sawmill Spring. Wiregrass Spring at Hidden Forest may contain bacterial contaminants and is not recommended as a source of drinking water.

Hiking or Horseback Riding: The entire refuge, excluding the portion of the range used by Nellis Air Force Base, is open to horseback riding and hiking. The preferred backing area, Hidden Forest and Sawmill Canyon are popular horseback riding and hiking areas as are other deep canyons in the Sheep and Las Vegas Mountains.

Horseback riding is permitted year round. water is scarce and critical to bighorns and other wildlife especially during the hot summer months. Except in emergency, please do not use wildlife water to water horses.

Picnicking: Picnicking is permitted along designated roads. There are two small picnic areas with tables and grills, but no water at Corn Creek Field Station and Mormon Well Pass.

Vehicular Travel: Vehicles are permitted only on designated roads. Roads are rough and unimproved, thus they may be impassable for passenger cars. All vehicles must be street legal.

Fires: Campfires are permitted, but only dead wood may be used. No wood may be removed from the range.

Artifacts: Searching for or removing objects of antiquity, defacing rock art and disturbing archaeological sites is prohibited. Rock or mineral collecting is restricted to materials that are exposed and collectable without the use of tools, including metal detectors.

Animal and plant life: Collecting, possessing, disturbing, injuring and removal or transportation of any plant, animal or part thereof (alive or dead) is prohibited. Exceptions to the above are legally taken bighorn sheep and mule deer.

Hunting: Limited hunting for bighorn sheep and mule deer is permitted. Contact the refuge manager for additional hunting information. All other wildlife is protected.

Recreation - Facilities in this USDI Fish and Wildlife National Refuge includes; wildlife viewing, bird watching, nature study, viewing historical sites, scenic viewing, camping, picnicking, walking and geology.

Climate - Seasonal temperatures vary greatly with the region, from hot summers to cold winters. Summer temperatures can reach 90 degrees during the day, with winter daytime temperatures only about 40 degrees.

Location - From Las Vegas take either U.S. Highway 95 or U.S. Highway 93 north.

Current Conditions & Trip Reports

Trip Reports:
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Filed By: Viaretta (Las Vegas, NV)
Number of People Encountered: 0-10 ppl
Recommend to a Friend: Highly
Report: Desert National Wildlife Refuge is absolutely awesome and worth your day to visit; however, DON'T VISIT DURING THE WINTER. We began our trip in a four wheel drive and progressed about 1 hour when two kind gentlemen alerted us to the fact we could progress another 1/2 mile but we'd never make our destiny. They were in large, high off the ground trucks, covered in snow and mud; obviously they had been stuck in the snow. PLEASE BE CAREFUL,TAKE SUPPLIES FOR EMERGENCY AND DON'T GO IN THE WINTER.

Number of People Encountered: 0-10 ppl
Recommend to a Friend: Highly
Report: Desert National Wildlife Range I recently had another amazing weekend of adventure in Southern Nevada. My buddy and I headed into Desert National Wildlife Range (aka the Sheep Mtns, aka the range north of Las Vegas) for a night of camping. In a word: amazing! Aside from the regular roads (70 miles or so), there are probably another 20-30 miles of side roads. Twenty-thirty minutes away from Vegas, you can find yourself in amazing isolated desert splendor! Once you get into the park, all of the main roads are easy to follow and easy to travel. You only need high ground clearance and large tires (no 4x4 unless you decide to get creative). One of the fascinating aspects of Desert National Wildlife Range is the biological and climatic diversity. You pass through many different environmental zones. In the valley, there's the saltbrush community that moves into the creosote community which blends into the Joshua tree Woodland (there must be tens of thousands of them!) which moves into the blackbrush community (Yuccas, cholla, etc.) which moves into the pinyon-juniper zone which moves up into the pine-fir and finally there's the bristlecone zone. (And you thought this was just 'the desert.') Hint: you'll only go through these zones if you get off the main road and take some of the side roads into the mountains. There are two main roads which go through the range, we took the less traveled Alamo Road. From the main road, there are several long side trips. There's one that goes to 'the hidden forest' which has a long lake on some maps (I think it's on the Delorme Atlas, which shows the area about as well as anything). The Campsite We went up one of the longest and most remote roads (Deadhorse) to a place called 'the Willie Cash Campsite,' which is one of the best campsites I've discovered. First, you're up the end of a long winding road that goes through five environmental zones from the saltbrush community up to the pinion-juniper woodland, so you're actually in a forest, similar to the Sierras. Looking down, you see the desert valley (I guess it's about 2,000 feet below) and the dry lake bed which appears on just about all state maps. Looking up and out, you see the long Sheep Mountain Range. You can't get this view from Vegas, but at the northern tip of the Sheeps, they're dry as a bone and as they move south, they gradually become greener until the southern tip looks like it belongs in Colorado. While the formal road stops at the Willie-Cash campsite, the former road continues, which makes a great two-lane hiking trail. My next trip will be to hike this road to the end. (It is at least a long day hike in the making and could easily turn into a backpacking trip.) Back along Alamo Road, the dry lake bed was impassable (even with 4x4). There were signs in the beginning of the trip indicating this disappointment. Since we couldn't make a loop out of the trip [Alamo Road (north) to 93 (south) to 15 (south)] , we headed back down Alamo Road. Soapbox: the US Fish & Wildlife Service really should reopen old Alamo Road so that you can eventually connect with 93. Coming back, we went past the visitor center/oasis (which is a must see), up Mormon Wells Road before we came into the Vegas Valley on Gass Peak Road (which will scratch your vehicle and may require 4x4 at times). There's an open mine on this road. Maps Get the high quality brochure by the US Fish & Wildlife Service when you register at the ranger station/oasis simply called 'Desert National Wildlife Range.' The Delorme's Nevada Road Atlas is also a great source. Final thoughts We saw about four vehicles all weekend (October). We found some of the most dense concentrations of cacti and Joshua Trees, anywhere. In some places, there was a plant every five feet. Amazing climatic and plant diversity in a relatively small area. Much closer (with greater opportunities for in-depth wilderness experiences) to Vegas than Mt. Charleston and Red Rock. This is despite the fact that the high ground clearnance/big tire element makes it less accessible for many. Yet another amazing adventure in Southern Nevada!

More Information

Contact Information:
Desert National Wildlife Range, 1500 North Decatur Blvd. , Las Vegas, NV, 89108-1218, Phone: 702-646-3401
, ken_voget@fws.gov

Additional Information:
Las Vegas Region - Located in southern Nevada, the Las Vegas Region offers more than just gambling. Visitors to the area can experience the natural beauty and wildlife of areas such as Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Valley of Fire State Park and the Spring Mountain Ranch State Park to name but a few.
Nevada National Wildlife Refuges and Preserves - National Wildlife Refuges and Preserves are scattered throughout Nevada and includes such reserves as the 1.5 million acre Desert National Wildlife Range which is the largest refuge in the 48 contiguous states.
South-Central Nevada - Often called the "Pioneer Territory", the area contains natural wonders from the Death Valley National Park to the Toiyabe and Monitor mountain ranges. The land is also dotted with the ruins of old mining towns.


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