One of the largest oases in the Mojave Desert, Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is located about 25 miles northwest of Pahrump. The refuge encompasses roughly 24,000 acres, including seven major springs and their accompanying wetlands. The springs, and the vegetation they water, provide rich habitats for wildlife, including 27 species of mammals, hundreds of varieties of birds and four native fish species. The refuge is home to 26 types of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world, including the Devils Hole pupfish.
At the visitor center, you can grab a map, check out the displays and get any pertinent information for your outing. From there, you can walk directly onto the Crystal Springs Trail. It’s a half-mile round-trip stroll on a level, wooden boardwalk, which leads past flowing springs and natural pools of clear water. This is a great trail for birding.
If you only have time to hike one destination, head to the Point of Rocks springs area. There are bathrooms, a wonderful covered picnic area and a quarter-mile, looping wooden boardwalk trail that accesses the King’s Pool, one of the highlights of the refuge. From the resting benches along the way, you have an excellent chance to see wildlife, including desert bighorn sheep, especially first thing in the morning. This is also the best place to see the Amargosa pupfish. The males are blue and less than 2 inches in length, yet often larger than the females, which are green. These fish can survive in water less than an inch deep and as hot as 93 degrees.
■ Climate: Expect temperatures about the same as in Las Vegas.
■ What to pack: Comfortable walking shoes, hat, suntan lotion, water and food.
■ How long to stay: The refuge is open for day use only.
■ Not to be overlooked: Less than an hour’s drive west of Ash Meadows is Furnace Creek, the hub of Death Valley National Park. If you plan to spend a couple of days in this area, think about staying at the Longstreet Inn and Casino (or its RV park), only minutes from the refuge. longstreetcasino.com
■ Contact: The visitor center is open daily, except some holidays, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Call ahead at 775-372-5435 or visit fws.gov/refuge/ash_meadows.