The Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is a natural oasis in the Mojave Desert in southwestern Nevada. It's just a few miles east of its much more famous neighbor across the California border, Death Valley. Actually Ash Meadows is officially a detached unit of Death Valley National Park.
The Refuge consists of 24,000 acres of protected land that is being restored after early pioneers settled around the natural springs and diverted the water. Crystal clear spring-fed pools with endemic and endangered pupfish and blue water reservoirs contrast with the surrounding desert terrain. It truly is an oasis close to the "driest place in North America".
Today's excursion was a spur of the moment idea. We started out mid-day and made the 45-minute drive from Pahrump, NV to check out Ash Meadows.
We entered from Bell Vista Road on the south side.
The road through the Refuge is gravel with quite a bit of washboard in several places. The speed limit was 35 m.p.h. and that's about as fast as you would want to go.
We stopped at the South Entrance sign and information kiosk.
We passed several of the Refuge features to go to the Visitors Center first.
Note: From Death Valley, you can reach the Refuge by taking CA Hwy 127 which turns into NV Hwy 373 when the road crosses the border. This western entrance is closer to the Visitors Center.
Before going inside, we enjoyed our packed lunch outside in the picnic area overlooking the boardwalk through the desert.
Then we walked to the front of what looks to be a very new, massive Visitors Center.
We entered and watched the 19-minute movie about the Refuge. We learned about the natural springs and the endangered species of Pupfish that live in them. We also learned that there was an effort begun in 1980 to turn the whole area into a 34,000-home development with strip malls, casinos, and an airport. It was to be called Calvada Lakes, and it was ultimately stalled in an effort to protect the endemic species of the area.
The Devil's Hole Pupfish found only in the Devil's Hole cavern and spring, was on the very first list of endangered species in 1963 according to the Refuge's website.
The attendant in the Visitors Center then told us that there were a couple of closed roads due to rare, recent rains. We could not visit the Longstreet Cabin and Spring, nor could we access some of the road around the Crystal Reservoir.
We decided to walk the one-mile roundtrip boardwalk behind the Visitors Center that included a stop at Crystal Spring. It's an unshaded, accessible boardwalk.
The highlight, of course is Crystal Spring, a beautiful, clear-water spring that hosts some of the Amargosa Pupfish.
This spring produces 2,800 gallons per minute, and the water flows out of the spring into a stream running through the desert.
We finished the loop and saw several small lizards, and Linda spotted a 3 to 4-foot Great Basin Gopher Snake that slithered under the boardwalk and into a hole before we could get a photo.
We saw a Belted Kingfisher but not much else in the way of birdlife from the boardwalk.
Leaving the Visitors Center, we took the side road to Crystal Reservoir, a striking blue body of water in the brown desert.
We parked in a muddy parking area and walked along the shoreline for a short distance.
With our binoculars, we could see gulls, American Coots, Ruddy Ducks, and Redheads. There was a small raft of Redhead ducklings as well, but none of the birds were in photo range.
Continuing along the very soft, muddy, white beach we climbed up on some rocks for more photos.
The reservoir is a fantastic place for birdwatchers to view shorebirds and waterfowl.
From there, we took the road to Devil's Hole. We took the short walk up the service road to the foot of the mountain.
It was fenced in and looked like a maximum security prison. We were funneled to a wire cage where we could walk in and get a limited view of the hole.
I'm not sure if they were more concerned about protecting the pupfish in the spring or trying to keep people from cave diving in the underground caverns. Or it could be because there have been underground "tsunamis" caused by seismic activity around the world, and it's just too dangerous for anyone to get close.
While Devil's Hole may by home to the Devil's Hole Pupfish which exists nowhere else, and it is an opening that leads to an underground labyrinth in the aquifer below, it's not much in the way of a visitor site. This is pretty much all you can see, so if you skip it, you aren't missing much.
We were there just a few minutes before making the short walk back to the road and our Jeep.
From there, we moved on to the Point of Rocks Boardwalk, which is one of the most popular visitors areas in the Refuge. It was the only place we saw more that one other car on this Friday afternoon.
The accessible boardwalk is only about a half-mile roundtrip, and provides a little more shade than the boardwalk by the Visitors Center.
The Refuge was named for the abundance of Leather Leaf Ash trees once found near the springs, and there are a few specimens along the trail.
A short stroll from the parking area led us to King's Pool, another crystal clear spring .....
where we could easily watch the tiny pupfish. They are constantly moving, but I snapped this shot anyway. It's not sharp, but it sort of captures the essence of these pupfish.
We were able to get close to the edge of this spring, so I stuck my GoPro in to get some video of these colorful, curious little fish.
We continued on around the boardwalk admiring the scenery.
At the end of the walk is a shaded spot where you can look for Desert Bighorn Sheep.
Sightings are fairly common but we didn't see any sheep today. Still, the afternoon colors in the mountains were worth spending a few minutes there.
From there, we made the easy walk back toward the parking area taking time to look at the many desert lizards we saw along the way.
Our visit to Point of Rocks wrapped up today's tour of Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. We spent a few hours and enjoyed the uniqueness of the desert oasis and the lack of crowds. It was definitely worth the trip.