The Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge is located in a remote desert wilderness that requires a long drive no matter which direction a visitor comes from. The Ruby Valley lies about halfway between Elko and Ely, Nevada in the Great Basin Desert, which is an area that will likely appear as a blank void on most maps. The closest paved roads end just north of the Ruby Valley near Highway 93, which means there will be plenty of dirt road driving involved with the trip. For those who relish the thought of a lengthy back country excursion, the dirt roads heading north from Ely to the Ruby Valley are about twice as long as the north entrance pathway coming from Elko. The Ely to Ruby Lake travel route passes through the vast basin and range territory, which presents an opportunity to view herds of wild horses along the way, so this is definitely the best way to go if you do not mind doing some extra dirt road driving.
Both the north and south dirt roads to Ruby Lake are smooth enough for an average passenger car, but a heavy duty vehicle will provide a smoother ride. Topping off the fuel tank will be necessary for a Ruby Lake adventure, because there are no modern conveniences to be found in this vast desert wilderness. Stocking extra water and food is wise to do in case the unexpected occurs, since a rescue in this remote region may require a long wait. Car reliability is the key to making a Ruby Lake venture a memorable one, because the towing charges way out in the middle of nowhere start in the high four digit range.
The Ruby Mountains surround the very lengthy valley and the towering basalt peaks certainly do harbor this precious red gemstone, but garnets are more commonly found. The geology and earth science topics concerning this region is a fascinating study that is worth looking into prior to arrival. In ancient times Ruby Lake was over 200 feet deep, but as can be seen in the photos this is no longer the case. Long term climate change has turn the gigantic lake into a valley of spring fed ponds, wetlands and vast grassy meadows, which all adds up to a great place for viewing wildlife!
During late summer and early autumn, the pronghorn antelope practically takeover the scene at the Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge. This is the time of year when the dominate males escort their pride bearing offspring, so capturing a keeper image of a pronghorn family portrait is possible. These herd animals can be encountered all along the inner refuge touring roads, which go to wetland marshes and large ponds hidden by tall reeds. The birding at Ruby Lake is a bit more challenging than photographing pronghorn, simply because the duck ponds are not easy to stealthily access on foot without causing the wary flocks to fly away. The exception are the local sage grouse, which will intentionally interact with a birdwatcher, in order to lead the visitor away from its nest.
The Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge has been a key autumn season migration spot since prehistoric times, so a wildlife viewing venture in this unique destination will practically be guaranteed to be a success. The long drive getting here will be well worth it when that first pronghorn antelope family portrait image is captured and from then on it will be difficult to willingly depart. Fortunately a National Forest campground is located on site, so going with the urge to stay a few extra days in this majestic desert wetland environment is easy to do!
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