Monday, February 16, 2009

Desert Destination: Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge

Every Monday we visit a desert destination.
Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, about 90 miles north of Las Vegas on Highway 93, was established in 1963 to provide habitat for migratory birds, especially waterfowl. The 5,300-acre protected area contains lakes, marshes, and meadows, all of which are rare habitats in Nevada. It is part of the Pacific flyway, an important migratory route.

Pahranagat has two lakes, Upper and Lower, along with two marshes, North and Middle. The mix of vegetation and water depths provide food and shelter for more than 230 species of wildlife. The water component of Pahranagat is essential for most wildlife species, and comes from sources further up the valley, such as Ash Springs.

When we went by in early February, Lower Pahrangat Lake was covered with birds--thousands of them. 

This is the shallower of the two lakes, so it is often covered with dabbling ducks--those ducks that tip over with their tail feathers high in the sky as they reach down to eat aquatic vegetation and insects that are slightly below the surface. Easily identified dabbling ducks are mallards and green-winged teals.

It looked like the most common birds were American coots--small black birds with stubby white beaks. They were bobbing along on the waves in the windy afternoon.

A highway parallels the lakes and marshes of Pahranagat NWR. You can see that it's winter by the leafless cottonwoods. A couple old roads run between the highway and the lakes, allowing you to enjoy the view at a slower pace.

One of the first things to see at the turnoff to Upper Pahrangat Lake is this bird blind, built by a Youth Conservation Crew in 2008. There are a couple benches inside, where you can hide out and let the birds forget you and get closer.

Besides wildlife watching, hunting and fishing are popular activities at the national wildlife refuge.

Further down the road is the Visitor Information Center, a tiny building. An information kiosk is next to it to provide an orientation to the 32,000 visitors who get off the highway to visit the refuge. The full-time staff of Pahranagat NWR consists of two employees, so needless to say, they are always looking for good volunteers and interns.

There's a nice picnic area with a shelter over it near the visitor information center. 

One of the attractions of Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge is free camping. About a dozen campsites are located right next to the lake. They are simple, with just a picnic table and grill, so you have to bring all your amenities (including drinking water). The view is spectacular, especially considering the price!

If you don't want to camp, there's a three-mile long trail around Upper Pahranagat Lake. There's also a wheelchair accessible fishing pier at the south end. Winter is obviously not a good time to try fishing from the pier.

However, winter is an excellent time to visit the refuge, especially if you like birds. Thousands of water birds use the lakes as wintering areas, including hundreds of tundra swans. The upper lake is deeper and is used by many diving ducks like canvasbacks and lesser scaups. The diving ducks have their legs further back on their bodies and are heavier than dabbling ducks, so when they take off from the water, they have to run on it first to get up enough speed.

The day we visited, there was only one person camping and no one else visiting the refuge. Even though it's right next to a highway, it's a beautiful spot to take a break and feel like you're far from everyone. To find out more, visit the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge website.

1 comment:

The Incredible Woody said...

What a beautiful place - and free camping!!

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