Designated National Wildlife Refuge/Proposed Wilderness
Year Designated: 1936
Act or Law: Executive Order 7373
Acres: 1.6 million (1.2 million acres proposed as Wilderness)
State Region: Southern Nevada
County Region: Clark, Lincoln & Nye Counties
Managing Agency: Jointly managed between U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the U.S. Air Force
Local District: USFWS Desert National Wildlife Complex & Nellis AirForce Base
Contact Info: USFWS: (702) 515-5000
4701 N. Torrey Pines Dr., Las Vegas, NV 89130
In 1971, as part of a Wilderness review required by the Wilderness Act, 1.2 million areas of the Desert Refuge were proposed as Wilderness by the US Fish & Wildlife Service. These Wilderness proposals as still in effect and these seven areas are still largely managed as Wilderness. The Wilderness proposals in the Desert Refuge include the: Sheep Range, Las Vegas Range, Gass Peak (collectively called the Sheep Range Complex); East Desert Range, Hole in Rock Range, Desert-Pintwater Range and the Spotted Range. Friends of Nevada Wilderness has long been a strong supporter of Wilderness protection for all of these deserving areas.
Unfortunately due to expansion of military operations, public access is no longer allowed in the Desert-Pintwater Range, the Spotted Range and portions of the East Desert Range and Hole in the Rock proposals. As of 2017, the military is trying to expand into the Sheep Range Complex and impact public access and wildlife habitat.
Going north on US-95 from Las Vegas, continue approximately 6 miles beyond the Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort and turn right onto Corn Creek Road. Continue on Corn Creek Road approximately 4 miles to reach the Visitor Center on the left. From the Visitor Center at Corn Creek there are two main roads that provide access to the remainder of the Refuge.
To access the northern part of the Refuge and avoid going through Corn Creek, take I-15 North and take exit 64 for US-93 North to go toward Alamo. Alamo Road is on the left, approximately 66 miles from the US-93 & I-15 junction in the middle of Pahranaghat National Wildlife Refuge the Alamo Road. If you drive beyond Upper Pahranaghat Lake, and certainly if you get into Alamo, you've gone too far.
CAUTION: All roads beyond the paved road to Corn Creek Visitor Center are rough dirt roads that are best traveled in a vehicle with high clearance and 4-wheel drive. The Refuge staff maintain the roads regularly but be prepared for any exceptionally rough patches of road you may encounter. Make sure you have spare tires, extra gas, a detailed map, and extra food and water in case you break down. There is no cell phone service in the area. Always be prepared for changing conditions, stay on designated routes, and practice leave no trace principles.
America's largest Wildlife Refuge, outside of Alaska, is less than a 10 miles from Las Vegas City limits. Despite it's proximity to 2 million people in the Las Vegas metropolitan area, very few people have heard of or even visited, the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. It's a bit of surprise given Mt.Charleston's popularity and the Refuge's juxtaposition and ease of access, to the visitor center at least. This well kept secret is some of the wildest country to be found anywhere in Nevada and it's well worth a visit.
The Desert National Wildlife Refuge's 1.6 million acres encompasses six mountain ranges and seven life zones and boasts elevations ranging from 2,500 feet to 9,912 feet. The Refuge was originally protected by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1936 as the Desert Game Range for its outstanding habitat for the desert bighorn sheep. It's former boundaries included the Refuge as we know it today, as well as the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area and Red Rock National Conservation Area. The much reduced Desert National Wildlife Refuge is jointly managed as a Refuge for sensitive desert bighorn sheep by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and by Nellis Air Force Base as the Nellis Test & Training Range.
In the 1970's, the US Fish and Wildlife Service reviewed the entire refuge for wilderness (as per the Wilderness Act of 1964) and formally recommended 1.2 million acres for wilderness designation. It has been largely managed as Wilderness since then, with the exception of two areas within the Nellis Test and Training Range. The other five areas within the Refuge are publicly accessible.
Trails & Destinations
The most frequented destination at the Desert National Wildlife Refuge is Corn Creek and the Visitor Center. They can be accessed via Corn Creek Road, a small paved road in between Kyle and Lee Canyon, on the east side of US-95. About 4 miles from the intersection of US-95 and the Corn Creek Road waits the newly constructed Visitor Center surrounded by a natural spring called Corn Creek. Corn Creek is a popular spot for bird watching and also home to the only remaining population of Pahrump Poolfish, although work on changing that is underway. Meander down one of the many small trails through Corn Creek and you'll find a small house with an even smaller fish; the Pahrump Poolfish Refugium.
The Refuge is vast beyond Corn Creek and can be accessed via two main roads, Mormon Well Road and Alamo Road. Both of these roads are rough dirt roads requiring high clearance and sometimes 4-wheel drive. The quality of the road depends on how recently it was maintained and recent weather events. Both of these roads eventually lead to US-93 many miles to the East, though there's much to see along the way.
Mormon Well Road skirts around the South end of the Sheep Range and goes right by Fossil Ridge. From this road visitors can access Fossil Ridge, Gass Peak, John Day Peak, Long Canyon, Desert Pass Campground, the Joshua Tree Forest, and plenty of open desert. For a more detailed description of each of these trails and backroads, it is suggested visitors reach out to the Fish & Wildlife Service or plan ahead using a detailed website like BirdandHike.com.
Alamo Road travels north along the face of the Sheep Range. From this road visitors can access a variety of backroads, including Cow Camp Road, and other destinations such as the Hidden Forest trail head, Hayford Peak, the dry lake bed, the sand dunes, and eventually the town of Alamo. Again, for a more detailed description of each of these trails and backroads, it is suggested visitors reach out to the Fish & Wildlife Service or plan ahead using a detailed website like BirdandHike.com.
The Desert National Wildlife Refuge is the desert bighorn sheep's largest protected continuous habitat. If visitors take the time to travel by foot through some of this rough terrain they may be rewarded with a glimpse of a sheep. More likely, visitors will notice traces of what the sheep have left behind; scat, flattened spots, and maybe even bones. If you are lucky enough to see a sheep, be respectful and keep your distance as they are wild animals.
Also, do not be alarmed if you see a large "necklace" one some of the animals. The U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service are gathering data about sheep's behavior and distribution in order to better understand the pneumonia that plagues our local populations.
Hayford Peak stands nearly 10,000 feet above sea level but is dwarfed by surrounding ridge lines connecting the competing mountain tops. It's a beautiful hike leading the hiker through different vegetation life zones, starting in Creosote low lands and climbing up to the Bristlecone Forest. The trail to the Hidden Canyon is well-worn and easy to follow. The push to Hayford's peak requires more route finding skills as the route is not well-worn. The view from the top is rewarding! The picture above shows a hiker descending Hayford Peak and looks west to the Spring Mountains and Mt. Charleston's snowy peak.
This photo is looking North at the Sheep Range from Gass Peak Road.
The Desert National Wildlife Refuge is well worth a trip. Camping is open and dispersed throughout the Refuge with the exception of the Desert Pass Campground located along Mormon Well Road. The campground has vault toilets, picnic tables and tent pads. Quite a luxury in this rugged landscape. If you prefer, just pull off the side of the road, set up a tent and enjoy this pocket of wild Nevada!