Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness
Wilderness Area Status
Designated Wilderness Area
Year Designated: 2002
Act or Law: Clark County Conservation of Public Land and Natural Resources Act of 2002
State Region: Southern Nevada
County Regions: Clark
Bureau of Land Management
Local District: Las Vegas Field Office
Contact Info: (702) 515-5000
4701 North Torrey Pines Dr Las Vegas,
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Spend a day with elders of the tribe
By Brian Beffort
Usually, wilderness designation takes place in the high mountains and rugged canyons. It also tends to happen with parcels of land that have already been identified by the land-management agency as having wilderness quality. But there's one parcel that the Clark County Conservation of Public Land and Natural Resources Act of 2002 proposed as wilderness that breaks these patterns. Once you visit the Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness, you'll see why.
Looking at a map, the area doesn't look like an obvious candidate for wilderness. It's an almost completely flat, relatively small (only 6,050 acres in all) triangular area surrounded by a power line, highway and dirt roads. Once you get out of your car, however, you'll see immediately the value this area holds. Joshua trees. Lots of them. A beautiful old-growth forest of them.
A 2001 article in the journal Great Basin Birds said, "The large expanses of large, old Joshua trees are perhaps one of the most impressive stands of their sort in the country. Certainly, they make for one of the most thrilling natural spectacles in all of Nevada."
Wee Thump means "ancient ones" in the Paiute language. Scientists have learned that Joshua trees often grow as little as a half-inch per year, and many of them stand over 30 feet tall. Walk among them, and you'll know intimately that you're in the company of grand and wise giants, the Mojave's version of an old-growth forest.
Although the area has been grazed in the past, it has since been withdrawn from grazing and has recovered nicely. The understory consists of high-quality native bunch grasses and low-growing desert shrubs. You'll also find among them a diverse community of Mojave desert life, including kit fox, great horned owl, the gilded flicker (which is known to occur in Nevada only at this location) and the federally threatened desert tortoise.
Wee Thump was the first unprotected tract of public land to be designated wilderness in Nevada. This is a direct result of the Nevada Wilderness Coalition's Citizens' Wilderness Proposal for Nevada's Mojave Desert Region. With this precedent, hopefully more unprotected areas will follow in Wee Thump's footsteps.
The boundary roads that surround the area provide excellent off-highway access to the edge of the forest, or a quality circumnavigation of the area. A high-clearance vehicle is recommended, but four-wheel drive is not necessary.
Prepare: Make sure to wear sturdy shoes, a sun hat and sunscreen. Carry food and ample water for your travels. A compass will also help you find your way back to the car, as there are few landmarks, and all that maze of trees can be disorienting.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate.
This wilderness is a component of the Bureau of Land Management's National Conservation Lands.