Flickr album link: Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge
U.S. Highway 50 is often lauded by travel writers as being "America's Loneliest Road" and this misleading moniker implies that there is nothing much to see or do along this lengthy stretch of road. A brief look at a map does not reveal much, but by zooming in on the details many points of interest will appear. Some of the Nevada Highway 50 destinations are easy for an average passenger car to reach, while others will require a high ground clearance vehicle or 4x4 since the dirt side roads can be rough in this region. Those who have a suitable vehicle will find plenty of interesting places to experience, which in turn will help to alleviate the loneliness that occurs while spending time in a very desolate area.
The Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge is a Highway 50 destination that is literally located right next door to the town of Fallon, Nevada, so restocking, fueling up or getting service done is easy to do. Fallon is the home of the U.S. Naval Air Station training base where top gun pilots earn their wings, so the modern world definitely can be found here. The Stillwater NWR is located on the outskirts of town toward the mountains and the dirt roads are smooth enough for an average passenger car, but a high ground clearance vehicle will provide a smoother ride. Bicycling is another option, but the distances are great in this vast desert wetlands area and it is best to take on this approach during the cool weather seasons. The same can be said about the hiking trails and dressing with layers is best for lengthy treks during the late autumn season.
Stillwater is one of the very best birding destinations in the west, simply because this vast wetlands area is a natural desert oasis with no other natural water resource anywhere nearby. Mountain snow melts and natural springs irrigate this big marsh and the waters are always very shallow. These conditions attract shore birds, wading birds and waterfowl by the hundreds during the autumn migration season as the flocks head further south for the winter. Some of the marsh ponds are several hundred yards wide, so packing a powerful lens will be necessary since the birds tend to congregate on the far side away from human traffic. The foot trails through the vegetation will also reveal everything from grouse to quail and many songbirds feed on the insects in this bog.
An entire day can be spent birding at the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge and there are some unique camping options within this site as well. This a great place for a family friendly nature hike or picnic outing, so be sure to pack the appropriate gear. Because the viewing distances are great, 10x binoculars or at least a 500mm camera lens will be needed to shorten the distance. If the timing is right, massive flocks can be seen during the fall season, while on less busy days the migrating birds will likely prefer to remain hidden from view. Even so, the Stillwater desert marsh is worth experiencing, so be sure to chalk this Highway 50 destination high on the list!
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