Desert Wildlife Range, NV
Mojave National Preserve, CA
Thursday, April 29th: Travel to
We woke up early in order to make our 8 am flight into
Soon after we touched down in Vegas, we found ourselves surrounded by the overwhelming visual and auditory noise of bright lights and colors of Chip n’Dale, Blueman group, and Elvis advertisements, casino posters, and hustling people. As soon as we got our baggage, we were off to pick up our truck. We piled into our compact truck. After a little struggle through the traffic of Vegas, we managed to jump on the freeway and headed north to the
It was a relatively short drive to the refuge; we were bouncing up the dirt road around noontime.
We stopped at Corn Creek Station, the refuge headquarters. It is supposedly the best birding spot of the refuge, with a constant spring year round. The area was pretty small, there were a few ponds, with large willows and reeds and near the living quarters there was an old orchard that the birds loved to hang out in. Overall it wasn’t quite what I expected… there wasn’t anything pristine or desert like about it. But the birds didn’t mind it at all; in fact they seemed to relish the place. All the fruit trees were loaded with Yellow-rumped Warblers. I was trying to pick out anything that was different. I did manage to find a single Lucy’s Warbler. There were also Yellow and
After spending an hour or so at the headquarters, we decided to head out. Our aim was the
We continued down the road and finally decided to turn around and try one of the roads that led up to the east side of
As soon as we stepped out of the car, we noticed the change in elevation… or perhaps it was the large clouds that hide the sun. It was definitely cooler up here. I bundled up before we walk around a bit and set up our camp in the truck bed.
Friday, April 30th: Pine Nut to Deadhorse.
I woke up much later than I was planning on. To avoid the cold breezes and being so cold, I tucked my head under the sleeping bag to stay warm. It kept me warmer, but also filtered out the daylight. Between the cold and the very few bird calls in the morning, I had some doubts about the place. Nonetheless, we got ready to take a hike up the wash. At least the sun was shining down on us again.
A loud trill around the campsite was produced by the Broad-tailed Hummingbird. It was difficult to spot them at first, since they fed on flowers that were low to the ground, and when they decide to travel they fly quite quickly, as with any hummer. I finally got a good look when one perched high on a bare branch. These hummingbirds turned out to be numerous during our hike up the wash as we heard them flying around. I found out how loud there wing beats are when, on different occasions, two of them decided to check out the red bandanna on my head.
Along the wash there were many pine trees and it hardly resembled the "typical" desert image. Once and a while a cactus would be sprinkled among the flora. As we hiked up the wash, I spotted a shell fossil in a large rock. We knew there were fossils in a ridge in the refuge, as the range was once a seabed. We continued to find fossils here and there along our hike.
The birding wasn’t too disappointing. There were many Black-throated Gray Warblers and Chipping Sparrows. There song could be heard pretty much through out the entire hike. I also spotted a single Pygmy Nuthatch and a White-breasted Nuthatch. Gray Flycatchers were also out calling and flitting about the trees and rocks. A pair of elusive Blue-gray Gnatcatchers called out amongst the trees and a Western Scrub Jay let out raucous calls high above the wash. I was hoping for a Pinion Jay, but no such luck.
When it was finally warm enough, a lizard would dart in front of us as we hiked around.
We spent the morning hike up the wash and back to the car, where we packed up and decided to try another part of the refuge.
We traveled back down Mormon Well road and back to Corn Creek where I spent some time searching the trees and bushes. There was a migrating Lewis woodpecker and a Black-headed Grosbeak. I also managed to find a Gray Vireo flitting along with some Hutton’s Vireos.
After enjoying the shade, we drove up the
At the end of Cow Camp Road, there was an old corral pushed up against a steep canyon wall. According to the map, a spring was up on the canyon, not exactly accessible to us. After poking around the area for a bit and looking at all the small caves and niches among the rocks, we loaded up and continued up
Even driving at 30 mph, I was still impressed by the display of color between the cactus and creosote bushes. It’s impressive to see that such a dry place could still produce such a beautiful array of colors.
When we reached Deadhorse, we could tell right away that this road was definitely less traveled. Being at the end of the main road, I suppose it wasn’t too surprising. The road traveled upward again and dropped into a wash. We missed the road at one point and ended up in soft fine gravel. Trying to back up we got stuck… I guess this is why they suggest 4-wheel drive on these roads. This was not a good thing that is being 60 miles from the headquarters and probably without a cell phone signal. But calm heads and cleaver minds worked. We dung out the rear tire and then pushed as I drove the car in reverse. To much relief, we were back on solid ground.
I had misgivings about going on, after that shake up, but we got this far haven’t we? How many times has that gotten us into trouble? We made it to the end of the road, after a somewhat nerve-racking drive. But it was rewarding. The camp spot was open, but surrounded with mountain ranges in the distant. It was beautiful and felt so isolated. But after the drive, maybe just the fact that we made it there makes it more beautiful.
Thankful at the lower elevation (5500 ft) it was warmer as the sun began to set. We took a quick walk down a closed road that was not marked on the maps that we brought. Back at the campsite, the sunlight was quickly disappearing and the Common Poorwills began to call. There was a different trill among the Poorwills call that I didn’t recognize, but it definitely wasn’t an insect. It turned out to be the Lesser Nighthawk. The two types of birds called well into the evening as we enjoyed our dinner.
Guided by the bright moonlight, we took a quick hike back down the road to warm up before going to bed. It wasn’t as cold as the night before so I didn’t have to hide under the sleeping bag covers.
Saturday, May 1st: So this is why they call it Deadhorse.
We woke up at 4:30 to see the stars. The moon had gone down and the sky was absolutely amazing. After stargazing, we went back to sleep to waking up a little later to take a hike down the rest of the Deadhorse road, which had been closed to vehicles.
Our goal for the hike was Bootleg Spring, which wasn’t from the end of Deadhorse trail, according to the maps. We figured between the topo maps that we had and the GPS we could be able to do some off trailing to find the springs. The hike started off in yucca and Joshua trees and ascended back into junipers and pine trees. The trail was longer than expected, and it ended in a large wash. There were nice views of the mountains and the distant dry lakebed, but the end of the trail wasn’t spectacular. Still, we decided to try to find the springs, since after all we came this far.
Going off trail was a little tricky; things look a lot flatter and less complicated on paper. In real life, things are much more hillier and steeper. We tried staying high so as not to have to go up and down over the hills, but we were forced to ascend and descend several times. After checking the map and GPS several times, we finally came to the realization that this spring probably wasn’t a permeate spring and wasn’t a spring as much as just a seep. We sat about 300 ft down from the supposed spring when we came to accept the truth.
But since we came this far…, we scrambled up the steep rocky slope of the mountain to find what might be the spring. Instead, we found a rock with ferns growing on it. It wasn’t much of an impressive spring… Oh well. It was a learning experience and adventure. We hiked back to camp exhausted and hot.
After cleaning up, we packed up camp and decided to head for the good old Mojave Preserve. We knew that at least we’d find a more reliable spring there. Before leaving the
We headed on toward the Mojave Preserve, having to drive through Vegas again, but traffic wasn’t too bad. It took us about 2.5 hours to reach the regular camp site near
Driving into the preserve, we noticed differences between the range and the preserve, (the heat was one thing) the Joshua trees were a lot taller and there seemed to be more scrubs. There were fewer flowers in the preserve, however, both in number and diversity. But perhaps the flower season was over at the lower elevation (3500 ft).
It was close to sunset as we entered the dirt road up to the campground. We were greeted by the Gambel’s Quail (something I missed in the Refuge), Desert Cottontails, and the Black-tailed Jack Rabbit. Right away I had a good feeling about being here.
We pulled into the parking circle and 3 cottontails bounded away into the scrubs. As we jumped out to set up camp, I heard a Ladder-back Woodpecker call nearby. With my binos, I focused the woodpecker on a yucca on the other side of the fence off the research area. Through my binos, I watched it fly off; I froze as I suddenly realized that a pair of eyes was staring back at me…
“Oh my god, a cat!” were the words that escaped my mouth. Not exactly a great proclamation, but it was all I could think of as I realized what I was looking at. There was a beautifully spotted bobcat, staring at us. It was no more than 500 ft away from us. Such an amazing and exciting sight. He/she had nicely black-tipped tail and ears, with a spotted golden coat. It started walking up the hill and would stop ever 5-10 feet to turn around and look at us. Eventually, it climbed on top of a boulder and jumped behind a mesquite bush.
Hoping to give the bobcat time to escape, we took a walk down one of the roads after we set up camp. The daylight dwindled and soon we were walking by moonlight; it was nearly a full moon. I was happy that it remained warm once the sun went down.
We returned to camp for dinner and to clean up. By moonlight I thought I saw something moving in the bushes; it turned out to be a Little Pocket Mouse. It was a small gold mouse that was feeding on something off the ground. As I was brushing my teeth, I looking into the old fire pit to find another was hiding in the cracks of the rocks. The night turned out to be filled with these little critters the jackrabbits came out as well as Merrium’s Kangaroo Rats.
As we slept in the bed of the truck, I would hear them every once in a while munch and wrestling around in the scrubs. I got better sleep that night than the previous two nights.
Sunday, May 2nd: Spring, Sprang, Sprung.
The calls of birds were our alarm clock this morning. At 5:30 am we arose to the calls of quails, Black-throated Sparrows, Costa’s Hummingbird, Cactus Wren, and Northern Mockingbirds. We set out soon after to visit the springs nearby.
We stopped by the springs near the miner’s camp to check out the tadpoles and have breakfast. A Say’s Phoebe perched atop the pole that project out of a large boulder. A female oriole sang nearby.
Under the increasingly hot sun, we continued on to Cottonwood Spring stopping to admire the flowers in bloom or look at lizards that would run across our path. At the springs, we rested and relaxed in the shade. I sat by the springs watching the birds come in and fly about. A Lazuli Bunting serenaded us the entire time we were there. A pair of Scott’s Orioles, a
We hiked to the springs that we went to two years ago, when all other springs were dry. It was located northwest of the Cottonwood Springs. When it was dry two years ago, it was hopping with bird activity since it was the only open water around that area.
When we got there, we were amazed by the amount of water that flowed through the springs. There were a lot of tadpoles in the water, but bird activity was lacking. It was probably because with more water available birds are not concentrated into one area. There were many different species of Swallowtails flying about.
I did see a Rufous Hummingbird. And strangely enough an Anna’s Hummingbird decided to use my head as a platform to perform his breeding dance. It was startling at first, as I didn’t realize what was going on. It sounded like a golf club during tee off, except directly over my head. The hummer did this twice. Perhaps he was offended by my presence or attached to my red bandanna. I don’t know.
Our shade beneath the lone short juniper that housed us was quickly shrinking. We took a quick walk up the spring to realize it continued on for a while. We hiked back to camp. I was exhausted and took a long needed nap.
At nightfall, we hiked down the road that leads toward Granite Ridge. A lone bat flew overhead. I was surprised there were so few bats seen, since it was so buggy out there. We returned to camp and settled down into our sleeping bags. It was rather hot, compared to the first couple of nights we spent in the desert. Actually it was a little too hot for sleeping bags at all, but too cool for no covering.
For our night entertainment, we put out a tortilla for the rats and mice to munch on. I awoke in the middle of the night to find a Desert Woodrat working fiercely on the tortilla. It wouldn’t allow the kangaroo rat any piece of it.
Monday, May 3rd: It’s a little hot.
The next morning the tortilla was pretty much demolished. The woodrat took all the tortilla that it had access to. Part of the tortilla was held under a rock so it couldn’t run away with the whole thing so the remaining tortilla was shaped perfectly as the bottom of the rock.
We packed up and headed out to Coyote canyon, our destination for the day. By 9am, it already seemed like it was reaching 90 degrees. It was getting quite hot, feeling even hotter than yesterday.
After a little searching over hill and dale, we reached Twin Springs, on the way to
I then heard a shuffle in the bushes directly across the spring as if something was scraping along the rocks. A few minutes later a Desert Tortoise made it’s way around the bush into our plain sight. It was a gorgeous tortoise, with a carapace at least a foot long. I think it was as startled at the sight of us as we were of it. It paused for a while, then the tortoise continued climbing down the slope toward the spring. It would stop and eat the dirt or rocks as far as I could tell it was scooping/scraping at the dirt.
We stayed for a while longer; the tortoise was wary of our presence. So we packed up and shot a few more pictures of it on the way out. We left in it peace at the springs. Back on the road to
By noontime, I eagerly awaited to return to our camp. After lunch, we packed up and headed back to camp… a long 3-mile hike, if there ever was one. Three miles isn’t bad unless it’s uphill, in a wash, and in 100-degree weather.
The first part of the trip, I was just wondering if I was going to collapse right there. I wonder if it’s true that vultures go for the eyes first... My heartbeat was too fast and my head was feeling lighter.
We stopped for any shade we could find, so I could recover a little. I began daydreaming about strawberry milkshakes and root beer floats and the Bun Boy Restaurant in Baker. It helped and by the second half of the trip my outlook was a lot better. We were able to stop and admire a Long-nosed Leopard Lizard that sat in the middle of the path seemingly oblivious to us.
When we finally made it back to camp, we packed up the car and took a drive to Baker. The cool air-conditioned car was a much-needed reward for the day. At Baker, we stopped in the visitor center and had dinner at Bun Boy. The large thermometer read 104 degrees. The milkshake was as good as I imagined, perhaps even better.
After loading up on our share of food, we returned to our campsite and decided to walk off our meal by visiting the nearby Snake Springs. On the way to the springs, there were many White-lined Sphinx moths feeding on the bladder sage. They were impressively large moths which could be confused for a small hummingbird. There was a small Desert Night Lizard that scurried under the rocks as I hiked up to the springs.
When nothing turned up at the springs not even water, we headed back to camp. We spotted and amazingly caught a Desert Spiny Lizard. Back at camp, we left the rest of our tortillas for our neighboring desert rats and mice. The jackrabbit even took part in the feast. By morning only a few tortillas remained.
Tuesday, May 4th
We spent the morning taking pictures and enjoying the desert before we had to back up and leave. With a little time on our hands we decided to drive down the road that led toward Granite Ridge. We didn’t get too far when there was a bad spot in the road. Fearing getting stuck and not know how far this road lead, we turned around and headed out of the preserve.
We made it to
I did have a wonderful time in the desert. The sights were absolutely amazing. The flowers were impressive and the animal wildlife was something I’ll remember especially the bobcat and the few anecdotes about the birds. I saw five life birds and a total of 65 species. Sadly still no roadrunner and there was a big miss on the thrashers. Oh well, there’s always next year.
Other Critter List
Merrium's Kangaroo Rat
Little Pocket Mouse
White-tailed Antelope Squirrel
Desert Night Lizard
Desert Spiny Lizard
Desert Horned Lizard
Long-nosed Leopard Lizard
Mojave National Preserve
Desert National Wildlife Range