Ash Meadows National Wildlife Reserve is located in Nevada not far from the much larger Death Valley and quite close to our current base of operations in Pahrump, Nevada. We became aware of it via the packet of local attractions given to use by the super friendly volunteer host at the RV resort we are staying at. Specifically there was a flyer about Devils Hole, a cavern filled where a vast underground water system can be seen at the surface, and home to the worlds only population of Devils Hole Pupfish. Enticed by the wonders of such a thing we decided this would make a great day trip.
Ash Meadows is a relatively new refuge created on land that at one point was to be a new city in the Mohave Desert conceived by property developers keen to make a gambling resort community north of Vegas. What drew them, and what makes the terrain somewhat unique is that while the area is a desert, it has a number of natural springs and sources of ancient water close to the surface. While it was not really enough for a grand resort of golf courses and casinos, it turns out it’s quite sufficient for a variety of local wildlife to thrive.
Not only is the reserve relatively new, the trails and ranger station are absolutely brand spanking having only been completed in the last year. As a result, they are both modern, beautiful, and carefully constructed to protect the delicate environment. The volunteer at the information counter at the visitor center was also proud to tell folks that it was not paid for with tax money but from federal land sales to the city of Las Vegas. Personally I’m happy to have my tax money help pay for such places but in this case, the more robust source of funding has resulted in first-class facilities.
It is not a very big park overall but it does have a few different sites to take in. Our first stop was Point of Rocks where a wonderful wooden boardwalk lets you walk about without trampling over the local wildlife or cutting a path through it. Here crystal blue springs feed into reedy streams surrounded by majestic rocky mountains. Here and there are genuinely comfortable benches perfect for sitting quietly and taking in the tranquility and beauty of the place. This is a great place for observing Pupfish up close. These are small shiny fish native to the desert, remnants from the time long ago when the whole basin was filled with water. The Pupfish of Point of Rocks is shiny blue and quite active as they nip away at the algae in the springs. This is a place I could sit for hours in contemplation listening to the gentle running water, singing insects and birds going about their business.
Next up was Devils Hole which, while very interesting to read about, was a disappointment in person. It is part of an underground water system of ancient/fossil water. This is essentially run off from the mountains that travels under ground very very slowly such that by the time it arrives at Devils Hole it is thousands of years getting there. The hole itself is at the foot of a smallish mountain of rock in a natural basin appearing little more than a small pool. In truth it goes down more than 450′ and has never been fully explored. It is home to a unique species of Pupfish found nowhere else. Unfortunately this has led to the area being heavily protected such that you can only view it from a sort of wire cage a good 200′ away from the water and surrounded by barbed wire and the like. You can sort of see the water and no way can you see the tiny fish it is famed for. Great for the fish, kind of disappointing for us.
Next up we checked out a reservoir in the refuge looking to see some more birds. This made for another peaceful place to sit and quietly observe. Most of the birds seemed to have decided the good fishing was at the other end of the reservoir so we heard them more than saw them. One pair of ckoots did decide to swim our way and do some fishing so we were not denied completely.
Finally we made our way to the Visitor Center and the Crustal Springs boardwalk. If you visit you may want to make this your first stop to pick up information pamphlets, read about the history of the area, and learn about its wildlife. Here, like at Point of Rocks, a very new and lovely boardwalk takes you above the ground through the Crystal Springs area. This makes it a great walk for the disabled or just those looking to avoid a strenuous hike. The only downside here was that many more people were about so the sitting and soaking in the tranquility was not so viable. On the plus side this is where we saw the most wildlife during our visit including the lovely bird below.
All told it is a lovely place, not one of dramatic vistas but of quiet and delicate nature. Great for a slow comfortable stroll with frequent stops to be quiet and listen to the sounds of life in a rare desert oasis.