ummertime in southern Nevada can create a dilemma for many outdoor enthusiasts.
Some enjoy venturing out to travel and explore the vastness of the seventh largest state by area in the country.
Others opt to remain homebound, thus avoiding the wrath of the summer heat found in the Mojave Desert this time of year.
For those who consider themselves “Desert Rats,” there are several locales less than a tank of gas away from the Pahrump Valley; the closest being Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.
At 23 miles west of Pahrump, Ash Meadows was named after the groves of ash trees in the veritable desert oasis.
Public Affairs Officer Daniel Balduini says visitors can witness a very rare and unique cross section of plants and wildlife found nowhere else in the world.
“Many species are endemic to the area, meaning they are only found there and nowhere else. There’s everything from Pupfish to various flora. When you drive in you may see just a patch of green off in the distance, but there’s way much more than that. In the summer you get the birds taking advantage of the springs and pools in the area. It’s a very unique place,” he said.
“We don’t really have a peak tourist season because it’s a pretty steady flow of visitors year around. We are on the edge of Death Valley, so it’s hotter here than it is in Pahrump or even Las Vegas and that’s something people need to watch out for,” he cautioned.
Balduini said visitors need to adhere to certain restrictions while visiting the area.
“You always need to drive on a designated road and follow the signs. Park only in the areas that are designated for parking and always stay on the footpaths and boardwalks. Bring plenty of water, a hat and suitable shoes for walking,” he said.
Another fascinating feature at Ash Meadows is a location known as Devil’s Hole.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Devil’s Hole is a water-filled cavern, which is home to the smallest and rarest pupfish in the world.
The water maintains a temperature of 93° (F) all year-round. Professional scuba divers from Death Valley National Park have mapped the depth to 500 feet but the bottom has never been found.
Perhaps the most fascinating fact about Devil’s Hole is that within minutes of an earthquake somewhere in the world, waves as high as 6 feet tall have occurred in Devil’s Hole.
At an elevation of minus 282 feet below sea level, Death Valley boasts the lowest elevation in the United States and sits roughly 60 miles west of Pahrump.
At the height of the California Gold rush a group of pioneers decided, against the warning of their wagon master, to take a “shortcut” across the unknown deserts of the West.
The fatal misjudgement led to the name “Death Valley” after the pioneers perished in the desert heat.
The park is comprised of more than three million acres of designated wilderness and hundreds of miles of backcountry roads.
Public information officer Cheryl Chipman said visitors can enjoy a wide variety of terrain, historic sites and wildlife all year round.
“The peak tourist season is November through March. Many people come in March to see desert wildflowers in the valley. The variety of landscapes is just incredible,” she said.
Chipman said, “In the summer, our international visitation is heavily weighted. They love to come here during the summer and are very excited to experience the desert during the hottest time of the year.”
Scotty’s Castle, Chipman mentioned, is just one point of interest that lures tourists.
The Spanish-style mansion was built in the 1920’s.
Tours of the castle are led by National Park Service employees dressed in period clothing. The castle features a Welte-Mignon theater pipe organ and the underground technology tour shows visitors how food was refrigerated and the mansion kept cool.
Other points of interest include Furnace Creek Ranch, Stovepipe Wells Resort and the Borax Museum.
It’s hot in Death Valley. Be sure your vehicle is in good shape. If you have trouble, don’t leave the car and try to go for help. Always travel with a lot of water and extra food just in case.
Chipman said, “We also recommend staying on the paved roads because you run a risk of getting a flat tire if you are on rough backcountry roads.”
If you pack it in — pack it out and leave no trace of your visit.
Home to some of the darkest night skies in the United States, DVNP has certification as the third International Dark Sky Park in the U.S. National Park System.
In the winter and spring seasons, park rangers offer night sky programs and hold stargazing events with astronomy organizations by using high-powered telescopes to allow visitors to explore the mysteries of the park’s dark night skies.
The Spring Mountains National Recreation Area, also known as Mount Charleston, provides opportunities for camping, hiking and picnicking.
The range is roughly an hour and 40 minutes southeast of the Pahrump Valley.
Visitors can go on guided hikes with a naturalist to learn about the plants and animals unique to the area and learn how the mountains were actually formed.
Forest service officials say the hikes are great for newcomers who want an introduction to the Spring Mountains or for regular visitors longing to know more about the area. Night hikes are a very popular outdoor activity.
The hikes are held every Friday and Saturday during the summer and average an hour and a half long. They begin between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Public Information Officer Leonie Mowap said the location draws visitors from all over southern Nevada who want to escape the summer heat on the desert floor.
Mount Charleston, which ranges from 3,000 to 11,916 feet in elevation, is part of the Spring Mountain Range and Toiyabe National Forest.
“The road to Mt. Charleston takes you where you can see all different types of birds and wildlife, even if you just pull off to the side of the road. We have camping sites with lots of picnic areas and trails for every level. At some locations there are fossil exposures from the sea bed that was there. Southern Nevada used be covered by a large shallow sea. With geological movements, the mountains rose up and the sea dried out, we now have these amazing seashell fossils,” she said.
There are strict rules for campers. “There are very, very few places where you can have an open fire. We encourage people to use propane if they want to grill. Even smoking has some limits. When visitors do come up bring lots of water. Even though it’s about 25 degrees cooler, you are at a higher elevation so that sun exposure is still there. We always ask people to bring twice as much water than they think they need and don’t set fires,” she said.