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Jim Boone, an ecologist and expert on local hiking trails and birding spots, in the Calico Basin area at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Walking encyclopedia
When he’s not hitting the trails, ‘Yoda of the Mojave’ shares his vast knowledge of them
This story first appeared in the Spring 2024 issue of rjmagazine, a quarterly published inside the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

‘Yoda of the Mojave’ shares vast knowledge of Southern Nevada trails

Updated March 18, 2024 - 6:58 am

Jim Boone has had plenty of different jobs and can be referred to by many titles. Firefighter, park ranger, rescue climber, ecologist, botanist, conservationist, outdoorsman, environmental activist — Boone is or has been all of those things.

But his friend Frank Golden may have the best description of him. “I used to call him the Yoda of the Mojave, because he just knows so much,” Golden says.

Boone, who grew up in the Los Angeles area, spent much of his youth camping with family in desert and mountain areas, and he has always had a love for the desert, even if he can’t quite explain why.

“I really do like the wide-open views,” the 66-year-old Boone says. “I sort of grew up in the desert, so it always feels like home. Wherever you’re from, home is home. So, it’s hard to really say what really attracts me to the desert other than this is home.”

He isn’t shy about inviting visitors into that “home.”

‘One of the ultimate resources’

Residents and visitors interested in exploring Southern Nevada may already be familiar with his website, BirdAndHike.com. For those who haven’t found the site, it’s sort of a one-stop shop for all things hiking, bird-watching and exploring the outdoors in the area.

Pick an outdoor spot in Southern Nevada, and Boone has a page dedicated to available hikes, sites and adventures.

“He’s fascinating, just one of the Southern Nevada icons when it comes to environmentalism, documenting the trails,” says Sander Smile, a tour guide and friend of Boone. “He’s a naturalist. He’s also an environmentalist and an ecologist, and he’s got the professional credibility. He can go scientific, but he knows how to talk to people. He’s just one of the ultimate resources.”

Roadrunner (Wesley Rand)
Roadrunner (Wesley Rand)

The hiking pages on BirdAndHike.com offer more than just vague maps. Boone provides detailed descriptions beginning with an overview of the hike and any particular dangers or problems one might encounter. There are directions to the trailhead, and photos detailing twists and turns of the route, which can be especially helpful for trails that aren’t well marked.

One of the beauties of BirdAndHike.com is that each user can wade as deeply into the information as they like. If you just want a list of possible hikes or directions to a trailhead, you’re set. If you want a much better idea of what you might encounter, those details are there, too. If you hike using GPS, coordinates for waypoints along the trail are provided, along with tons of photos.

And if you want to take a deeper dive, Boone describes the plants and animals you might encounter, and those include links to more information about the flora and fauna he mentions.

BirdAndHike takes flight

After Boone earned a Ph.D. in ecology at the University of Georgia in 1995, he and his wife, Liz, hoped to return to the West. When the job offers didn’t materialize, he decided to apply for a government position working on the Yucca Mountain Project at the site of the proposed nuclear waste repository. He ended up working on the project for 11 years.

Boone brags that he “got paid to go catch lizards” during his time in charge of projects for small mammals and reptiles. He loved the work and says that they had a crew of 70 field workers at one time.

Horned Lizard (Wesley Rand)
Horned Lizard (Wesley Rand)

“We got to do some really big projects and lots of projects at the same time,” he says. “It was pretty exciting.”

But as the discussion over the waste repository became more and more heated, funding began to be cut and eventually the entire biology division was gone. Because he was a strong writer, Boone shifted to hydrology, where he helped those scientists write their reports. He finished his final years with the project in the technical writing department, working with engineers on their reports.

It was during that time that Bird and Hike was born. Boone says that there was quite a bit of downtime in the technical writing department, and he soon found that his boss preferred employees to look busy rather than sit around reading a magazine.

“What I stayed busy with is the beginnings of the website,” he says. “I could do a lot of the early writing on the website in the downtime at the Yucca Mountain Project — the statute of limitations is long gone on that.”

Far beyond the basics

There is far more information about hiking and birding available now than when Boone started the site in 2002, but there are still details on his site that are tough to find elsewhere.

Take the area around Gold Butte National Monument. Boone was active in the campaign to make Gold Butte a national monument, and to say he knows the area well is an understatement.

The Gold Butte section on Bird and Hike offers links to 67 hiking destinations, nine camping spots, 48 points of interest and 71 driving adventures.

“Gold Butte’s still pretty wild, and there’s really not a lot of info,” says Chris Schmandt, an outdoorsman from Boston who found BirdAndHike 20 years ago and struck up a friendship with Boone. “It’s sort of hard to know where to go, and it’s an incredibly rich area. The stuff that he’s got there, he’s got the definitive source of information on Gold Butte.”

The site started because Boone wanted to give people, especially visitors, more information about where to go birding in the area. But in typical Jim Boone fashion, he didn’t stop with the basics.

“There was a little booklet at the time that was out of print,” Boone recalls. “And it wasn’t very thorough. I started with that, and being an ecologist and interested in the plants and animals that you see along the way, I started saying things like ‘when you’re walking down this trail, you’ll see lots of giant desert almond shrubs.’ And that’s not very helpful to people unless they know what a desert almond is. So, I started making pages for desert almond, desert willow and things you see along the way.”

Grackle (Wesley Rand)
Grackle (Wesley Rand)

That is how all of the pages for plants were born, and he soon decided to add links for the animals you might encounter, as well.

Boone says his life now sort of is divided into two parts: hiking season in the spring and fall and website season in the winter and summer when the weather isn’t as accommodating for outdoor adventures.

He recently spent about 10 weeks updating and standardizing the sizes of the photos on the site, spending eight to 10 hours a day at the computer.

A new passion project

Boone left the Yucca Mountain Project in 2006 and says that he “retired from a paycheck” around 2010. But Boone doesn’t really do retirement like other people.

In addition to the countless hours he spends maintaining and updating the website, he’s found another passion project: knocking down abandoned mine claim markers on public lands around Nevada. The markers generally are white, hollow PVC pipe, and birds can get trapped and die in the larger-diameter pipes.

Most of the pipes in Clark County have been cleared, so Boone spends his spring and fall hiking remote areas of Northern Nevada to remove the pipes. In the winter, he spends time around Searchlight, seeking to knock down smaller-diameter pipes that don’t kill birds but do attract and harm local bees.

“It’s nice to spend the day out hiking around big, open places, mountains all around in the distance, great views and looking at the plants and animals that you can find and making records of some of those,” Boone says. “And knocking down some mine markers, saving the bees to the extent that I can.”

Hikers and bicyclists enjoy the popular Historic Railroad Trail of Lake Mead National Recreatio ...
Hikers and bicyclists enjoy the popular Historic Railroad Trail of Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The Railroad Tunnel Trail is one of Jim Boone's recommended easy hikes. (Natalie Burt/Las Vegas Review-Journal file)

Boone isn’t sure what his next project will be. As long as there are still mine markers trapping birds, and bees, he will wander the desert knocking them down.

“The man is a scientist at heart,” Golden says. “Even though he claims to be retired from the actual paid workforce, his research and his projects, the things that he’s passionate about will never end.”

And that means he’ll probably continue to update BirdAndHike, sprinkling in messages about conservation as he tries to keep the desert he loves thriving.

“I’m trying to get people to come out and spend time in the desert and realize it’s not a wasteland out here,” Boone says. “It’s an amazing place and some wonderful opportunities to see nature in nature and get some good exercise. Slow down and get a mental break. Being outdoors is always good for your attitudes and mental well-being.” ◆

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