Thursday, May 08, 2014

Las Vegas–The Other Wild Side

We always enjoy a stay in Las Vegas, but not for the usual reasons.  We’re not interested in fighting the crowds on the “Strip”, breathing the cigarette smoke-soaked air in the casinos, or even dining at the overpriced buffets.  Nope – we stay in the Desert Eagle RV Park on Nellis AFB and stay busy visiting old friends and exploring the surrounding area.  Nellis is a vibrant, busy base, with jets arriving and departing throughout the day, and has a Thunderbirds on Rampgreat commissary where we stocked up on groceries.  It’s also home to the Thunderbirds,and as we toured the base we came across their parking area.  The RV Park at Nellis provides great security (you need it around here), is quiet except for the sound of jets during the day, and the air is far less polluted – as the view South from the base shows.Las Vegas Smog
Mt Charleston HighwayWe enjoy visiting  the Spring Mountains, an area in stark contrast to the dry desert of Las Vegas.  Still snow covered this time of year, Charleston Peak at just under 12,000’ dominates theMt Charleston View skyline Northwest of town.  When we lived here in the late 70’s, it was a quiet area of campgrounds and picnic areas, but now with the population of the Las Vegas climbing to over two million, it  has many homes and of course, more traffic.  Still, it’s a place to cool off in the heat of the summer and the smell of pine trees is a nice change from the valley below. 

Mt Charleston View2
From the high altitude of the Spring Mountains we traveled to the lowest point in the area, Lake Mead.  The lake, formed by Hoover Dam, is the largest reservoir in the United States, but for the last few years has been dropping as water supplies from rain and snowmelt diminish.  Many of the boat ramps now end a hundred or more yards from the water, and two major marinas have been relocated.  The lake furnishes around 90 percent of the water for the Las Vegas area, and the water level is forecast to drop another 20 feet this year.  It’s easy to see where the water level is supposed to be by the white ring around the lake.  But it’s still a crowded area, with packed campgrounds and RV parks, and busy marinas  and boat launches.Lake Mead Marina
Pahranagat NWR SignDriving north from Las Vegas on Highway 93, we drove through landscape that resembled the lunar surface until coming to Pahranagat National Pahranagat NWR1Wildlife Refuge.  Suddenly we were in a green valley with Cottonwood lined streams and finally, two large lakes.  The refuge has camping  areas, picnic shelters, and hiking trails.  We saw a number of ducks and coots, and were surprised at how green and cool the area was, all thanks to a series of springs further up the valley.
Pahranagat NWR2
Desert NWR Visitor CenterJust 15 miles Northwest of Las Vegas is another oasis, the Desert National Wildlife RefugeDesert NWR Visitor Center RearMore than twice the size of Rhode Island, this refuge is largely a desolate mountain area. The visitor center is one of the best we’ve seen and the surrounding area is a lush area of trees, ponds, and trails.  An artificial spring is home to the last remaining Pahrump Poolfish, an endangered species which lost it’s habitat when the springs in the Pahrump area dried up due to groundwater pumping.  Walking the trails, we came upon one of the volunteers with a spotting scope set up on a distant tree.  Almost hidden in the fork of the tree was a mother Long-eared Owl and her three chicks.  The light wasn’t the best, but I managed to get these images.  Sadly, it looks like the small owl chick in front won’t survive, but hopefully the other two will grow to be the rodent-eating machines that we like to have around.  Long-eared Owl with chicks
Long-eared Owl with 3 chicks
We’ve another trip here to tell you about, so check back!