The Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is located in southern Nevada near the California Border and this spot is a good choice for a day trip for a number of reasons. Las Vegas is less than two hours away and Death Valley National Park is literally right next door, so this refuge is convenient for both Las Vegas day trippers and the steady stream of tourists heading to Death Valley on Highway 95. From Area 51 Tourism Center on Highway 95, SR 373 runs through the entire Amargosa Valley to Ash Meadows on the way to Death Valley Junction and Furnace Creek. Pahrump, Nevada is also only a few dozen miles away, so the location of this wildlife refuge is not as remote as the map may suggest. A casino resort is located right across the paved road next to this refuge, so even modern amenities are available in this remote area.
The dirt access roads in the Ash Meadows NWR are fairly smooth, so a vehicle with average ground clearance can do the trip. The Mojave Desert scenery going into this park is as harsh as can be and it is difficult to imagine what kind of wildlife can survive in this unforgiving environment. The answer to this question and much more interesting information can be found at the first suggested stop, which is the Ash Meadows Visitor Center. Maps with points of interest are provided and there are a few regulations unique to this preserve that are good to become familiar with before setting out on foot.
From the visitor center, lush green areas can be noticed along with a few trees in this seemingly lifeless end of the desert. Surprisingly, the Ash Meadows NWR actually protects the largest natural oasis in the entire Mojave Desert and where there is water, there is guaranteed to be wildlife. The Ash Trees surrounding the ancient freshwater springs spawned the name for this lush oasis, which actually covers quite a bit of ground. There are three boardwalk trails that run through the wetlands and there is a spot to view one of the world's oldest species of fish. Ancient Pupfish have existed since long before the age of the dinosaurs came to an end and they are capable of surviving in extreme environmental conditions. The tiny Pupfish can be viewed at Devils Hole, which is over 500 feet deep and the bottom of this spring water abyss actually has never been reached. The the unimaginable depths of Devils Hole provides a clue about the source of the water, which comes from deep underground reserves created long ago during the last ice age. The water also has a high alkaline content, which the well adapted Pupfish do not mind.
The wetland boardwalks are the most popular place to be, but I had to skip that area during my visit because the weather conditions were extremely windy and the hiking experience compared to being sandblasted. I hunkered down in my vehicle next to the reservoir in this park, which definitely is a premium cool weather season birding area. When the high winds occasionally calmed down to bearable level, I was able to take a few snapshots of the waterfowl and wading birds with a short lens. Trying to hold the massive super telephoto lens steady was an impossible dream, which is as good of an excuse as any to return at a later date. Plenty of migrating birds call this large reservoir home during the winter season and there are over 30 species of wildlife that are only found in Ash Meadows, so be sure to pack a powerful lens or binoculars for the ride!
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