Las Vegas is a great place to launch a day trip to explore the desert. Beyond the brown expanses of desert next to highway, you'll find rugged mountains, hidden springs, and dramatic scenery. Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, just outside of Pahrump, Nevada, is home to colorful warm springs, historic ruins, and the mildly-famous Devil's Hole Pupfish.
Kings Pool at Ash Meadows NWR — Photo courtesy of USFWS Pacific Southwest RegionA short drive of about two hours will take you from the Las Vegas Strip to Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. If you take Highway 160, you'll pass through the town of Pahrump (a good place to stop for fuel or snacks) and be almost out in open desert before you see Belle Vista Avenue and a large sign pointing you to the left. From here, it's simply a matter of following the signs. There aren't many streets out here.
It's worth a visit to the visitor center to learn about the history of Ash Meadows, which goes back thousands of years. From early on, the hot springs were a draw for people. In modern times, the entire area was almost developed into a housing tract, but conservation efforts stopped the destruction of this fragile habitat.
[PHOTO_135198]A portion of the Refuge is a spur of Death Valley National Park, and this is where the Devil's Hole Pupfish live within a spring in a craggy rock formation. Unlike the other springs throughout NWR, you'll have a hike to Devil's Hole.
The refuge is all dirt roads, although a four-wheel drive is not necessary. Follow along the roads (get a map at the visitor center–or can you download one from the website) and you can stop at each of the springs. A boardwalk near the visitor center lets you walk over the marshy land, and benches and placards are installed along the raised wooden walkway. Look for the tiny, colorful pupfish swimming the springs. These pup fish are not the same as the Devil's Hole Pupfish, but they are close cousins. Ruins are common throughout the refuge, a testament to early settlers who lived here.
Be sure to come prepared to snap lots of pictures of the warm springs, which have an opal-like color. The range of blues and greens is fascinating, and the abundance of so much greenery in the otherwise harsh environment makes a striking contrast.
The best time of year to visit Ash Meadows is in the cooler months. In summer, temperatures here can be high. There is no fee to get in.