About an hour and a half west of Las Vegas, close to the California state line, lies a real desert oasis, brimming with life. The fifty seeps and springs around Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge pump 10,000 gallons of crystal-clear water per minute. These springs feed 23,000 acres of desert and bring a surprising abundance of unique wildlife to the park.
Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is home to the greatest concentration of endemic species in the U.S., second greatest in North America. It also has one of the highest numbers of threatened and endangered species, with five endangered and seven threatened.
In addition to the wildlife, it’s a very rare and beautiful place to visit, especially if you are looking for a worthwhile day trip from Las Vegas.
Where is Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge?
Ash Meadows is just over 1.5 hours west of the Las Vegas Strip.
- Follow US-95 N towards Reno for 87 miles.
- Turn left on NV-373 S towards Death Valley.
- In 15 miles, turn on Spring Meadows Road, which leads to the park and Visitor Center.
It’s worth noting, all roads in Ash Meadows are dirt roads. Most are fine for standard vehicles, but there are some areas you may find inaccessible, especially in rainy season.
Also make sure you have plenty of gas. Once you exit the NV-373 highway, you may find it challenging to find a gas station.
Consider starting your day early and tying in the famous Death Valley National Park. The Furnace Creek Visitor Center in Death Valley is only 45 minutes further west from Ash Meadows.
When To Go?
Spring and fall are the best times to visit. Not only is the weather better for you, but it’s also better for the wildlife.
Many animals hibernate in winter. In the heat of summer, they lay low until the evenings, when things cool down. Plus, both spring and fall bring migrating birds, and you’ll see the most desert bloom in spring.
Though many of the reptiles hibernate in winter, the park does see a variety of birds flock to the wetlands, including Northern Harriers and Mountain Bluebirds.
Summer is blistering hot, with days typically well over 100°F and there is very little shade in the park. Unfortunately, this was when we visited, but we were still able to see some animals. Here’s a tip: keep a look out in the shade of shrubs and under the boardwalks.
What To See at Ash Meadows?
Start your trip at the Visitor Center. It has a wealth of information on the area and the wildlife. Be sure to pick up a brochure, and chat with the local wildlife ranger or volunteer. They were extremely helpful at letting us know what we could expect to see.
There’s also a lovely gift shop at the visitor center. Since the park is free to visit, buying something at the gift shop is a wonderful way to support the park.
Walk the Crystal Spring Boardwalk
The backside of the visitor center provides access to a large circuit of boardwalks (0.9 miles round-trip). The boardwalks lead to Crystal Spring. As the name implies, this desert oasis has the most beautiful crystal-clear water. Look through the reeds and you may get lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the endangered Amargosa Pupfish swimming along.
Be warned, there is very little shade past the first pergola. In summer it gets painfully hot, and there’s no swimming or wading allowed in the springs.
Watch the Birds at Crystal Reservoir
One of the prettiest areas of Ash Meadows is Crystal Reservoir. This turquoise piece of heaven looks like a desert mirage as you see it come into view. Apparently, this is a great spot for bird watching, but in summer we did not see a single bird.
As inviting as this spot looks, there’s no swimming allowed anywhere in Ash Meadows.
Try to Spot One of the World's Most Endangered Fish at Devils Hole
Probably the most visited area of Ash Meadows, and the main reason this National Wildlife Refuge exists, is Devils Hole. This is the only place in the world where the highly endangered Devils Hole Pupfish live.
These tiny fish have adapted to the harshness of the environment. They live in only the top 80 feet of this cavern’s 93°F water system. Populations over the years decreased from around 550 in 1972, to just 35 adult pupfish in Devils Hole when they counted in spring 2013.
Today, scientists are trying everything to bring back the population, including moving eggs to a replica environment, in hopes of creating a refuge population.
To protect the endangered pupfish, the area is fenced off. It’s definitely not the most exciting area of the park. You can see down into the cavern, but your chance of seeing one the world’s rarest fish is rather slim.
Take a Wander Down Point of Rocks Boardwalk
A little further past Devil’s Hole Road is Point of Rocks Road. Follow this road to the end for one of the best wildlife spots in the park.
Well maintained boardwalks make their way to Kings Spring, another beautiful crystal blue spring noted as a fantastic spot to see pupfish. Most of the wildlife we saw at the park were in this area, hiding in the shade.
Wildlife And Fauna of Ash Meadows
With at least 26 endemic species, Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge has the greatest concentration of endemic life in the United States, second greatest in North America. This is one of the primary reasons the park earned the status of “Wetland of International Importance.”
Most of these endemic species are waterbugs, snails, and fish, so you may find them challenging to spot. However, there are plenty of desert natives to also look for.
Though we visited in the middle of summer, we still spotted three Blacktail Jackrabbits and four types of lizards. As this was an unplanned day trip from Las Vegas, I didn’t have the right lens with me. Sadly, the lizards proved challenging to photograph properly.
In addition to the animals of the park, Ash Meadows is known for their rare and threatened plant life, including the Milkvetch and Amargosa Niterwort.
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