The Desert National Wildlife Range is located on Highway 95 about 30 minutes north of Las Vegas. Corn Creek Road is the access point to look for and the welcome center is located about a mile into the park. Near the visitor center is where Mormon Well Road can be found. This long dirt road goes through the entire length of the Desert National Wildlife Range and eventually connects with Highway 93 in the Great Basin Desert. Needless to say, this is a very remote area and the dirt roads are rough, so only a reliable high ground clearance vehicle can safely do the trip!
From Corn Creek, Mormon Well Road goes 47 miles to Highway 93, which can be done on one tank of gas. Because this is such a remote area, it is best to pack emergency food and water supplies, because there will be little hope for a timely rescue. Flash floods occasionally wipe out the dirt roads in this region, so it is best to check on the conditions at the visitor center.
Starting at Corn Creek, Mormon Well Road gradually goes uphill into the elevations where the Joshua Trees flourish. There are a few valleys in this area where the thick Joshua Tree forests stretch out as far as the eyes can see. The views are amazing because these protected trees are fairly rare to encounter in large numbers. After a while it becomes easy to see that there actually are far more Joshua Trees in the Desert National Wildlife Range than in Joshua Tree National Park!
Mormon Well Road continues uphill through the high desert terrain and there are a few landmarks to check out along the way. Peekaboo Canyon is a destination that is well worth spending some extra time exploring. The towering mountain top rock outcrops take over the high elevation landscape and this is the home of the local Bighorn Sheep, which this Wildlife Range is dedicated to protecting. Spotting Bighorn is not easy to do, but these animals are creatures of habit, so they do tend to follow the same paths back and forth to a water source early in the day. Heading to one of the few natural springs in this area at dawn will present the best Bighorn viewing opportunities.
Driving the entire 47 mile long Mormon Well Road only takes a few hours to accomplish, but this bumpy dirt road can be fatiguing to tackle all at one time, especially since this route goes up and over a tall mountain range. Fortunately, there is a high elevation forest campground at just about the halfway point, so this long dirt road tour can be done as an overnighter venture. Back when I photographed this Jeep Trail, the Desert Pass Campground was very primitive, but many improvements have been made since then. Information about fees and limitations for the new and improved Desert Pass Campground can be found at the Corn Creek Visitor Center.
The Desert Pass Campground is in a lush Ponderosa Pine and Juniper Tree forest, with mountain peaks in the background, so this cozy spot is as picturesque as can be! The elevation is high enough for snow during the winter season, so it does pay to keep an ear out for weather reports. During summer, this spot offers cool relief from the extreme heat. One thing to keep in mind is that there are plenty of mountain lions in these desert mountains, so it is advisable to not let children or pets wander off alone, especially in the evening hours.
Amazingly enough, very few Las Vegas residents realize that the Desert National Wildlife Range exists on the other side of the mountain in the north end of the valley. Even fewer realize that there is a high elevation campground in this place where a cool breeze can be found. The sheer remoteness of this wilderness is another limiting factor. All this is like music to the ears of those who wish for a great escape, because overcrowding is guaranteed to not be a problem. All it takes is a high ground clearance vehicle and a few precautionary measures to make the trip happen!
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