Hiking at Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge

Admittedly, I had never heard of Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge until a few weeks ago. Then I saw an announcement on Nevada Magazine’s Facebook Page for a ranger-led guided hike to take place there twice this month. As my husband and I often feel we’ve exhausted all hiking opportunities in the near-Vegas vicinity, we decided to check it out.

Ash Meadows was established in 1984 and encompasses 23,000 acres near Amargosa Valley in Nye County, Nevada. Geographically speaking, it’s about 30 miles west of Pahrump and 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Directions to the refuge may be found on their website. The park is good for bird-watching, picnicing, hiking and there’s also swimming at Crystal Spring (though it was closed when we were there). While you can also occasionally see bighorn sheep and coyotes, the big faunal attraction of the park is the rare Desert Pupfish.

For our hike, we began at the Point of Rocks Picnic area. Here they have a recently built boardwalk that is wheelchair accessible. This is probably one of the best spots in the park for bird-watching, although today since we were with a largish group the only bird we were able to identify is the Phainopepla. If you’re really into bird-watching, you can download a birder’s checklist in advance or pick one up at the park’s visitor center.

The Point of Rocks boardwalk is also one of the best places in the park where you can see the tiny Desert Pupfish up close.

The destination of our hike today was Devil’s Hole. Interestingly, Devil’s Hole is a small pocket that is part of Death Valley National Park, although it’s not connected to the remainder of the park that’s over 20 miles away. Devil’s Hole is unique in that no one knows the exact depth of the pool, but it’s at least 500 feet deep. It’s also home to the Devil’s Hole Pupfish – the only place in the world where this endangered species is found.

To get to Devil’s Hole from Point of Rocks, we walked just over 2 miles across open desert. It doesn’t so much follow an actual hiking trail, but you can get directions from the visitor’s center. You can also drive directly to Devil’s Hole if hiking is not your thing. But it was a fine day in the desert today and we got to experience landscape such as this:

And my favorite part of hiking in the desert in the springtime is undoubtedly the blooming wildflowers.

When you get to Devil’s Hole, you can’t actually walk right up to it. I guess they (a) don’t want people falling in; and (b) don’t want people to damage the fragile eco-system. Rather, you enter a fully enclosed viewing area. Don’t bother trying to hop the fence, as it’s protected with electric barbed wire. This is the best view of Devil’s Hole that I could capture on film.

Ash Meadows is definitely worth a visit if you happen to be in the area. My advice is to visit in the months between November and April because, after all, you’re not too far away from Death Valley where the summers can be long and brutal.

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