Desert National Wildlife Refuge

The Desert National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 1.5 millions acres (over 2,200 square miles) of the diverse Mojave Desert in Southern Nevada (see map at bottom of page). It is the largest National Wildlife Refuge in the 48 contiguous states. One key management objective is providing protection for the desert bighorn sheep.

The range include six major mountain ranges, the highest rising from 2,500-foot valleys to nearly 10,000 feet. Annual rainfall ranges from less than four inches on the valley floors to over fifteen inches on the highest peaks. Of the six mountain ranges, the Sheep Range is the highest, most scenic, and supports the greatest diversity of wildlife and vegetation.

The US Fish and Wildlife Server (US FWS) works to actively improve bighorn habitats by developing new water sources and maintaining and improving existing ones. Dependable year-round water sources located throughout bighorn habitat enable bighorns to use all available habitat which reduces competition for food., cover, water, and space.

Numerous other wildlife species share the range with the bighorns. Mule deer, coyotes, badgers, bobcats, foxes, and an occasional mountain lion are the larger mammals. Over 260 species of birds have been identified on the range. Examples are phainopepla, roadrunner, pinyon jay, house finch, loggerhead shrike, red-tailed hawk, and golden eagle.

Mormon Well Road Truck Tour

The most travel route, the Mormon Well Road, is suitable for four-wheel drive or high clearance two-wheel drive vehicles. This road, shown on the map below, starts from Highway 95 and terminates on Highway 93 near State Route 168. Typical travel time from Las Vegas is about four hours total. Some of the points of interest along this drive are listed below:

Corn Creek Field StationDescribed above, the Corn Creek Field Station is the starting point of the Mormon Well Road truck tour when driven from Highway 95.
Sheep Mountain RangeVisible on the left during most of the drive, the Sheep Mountain Range is excellent bighorn habitat. Desert bighorn often visit this area during the cooler part of the year from late fall to early spring. During the hot months, they move northward and closer to perennial springs.
Agave Roasting PitRoasting pits were used by ancient peoples for slow-cooking meats and vegetables. Native food, such as agave, was placed in a bed of hot coals mixed with limestone cobbles and covered with vegetable material and/or earth. This cooking method was utilized by pre-historic Native American people including the Southern Paiute, Shoshone and Virgin Branch Anasazi.
Peek-A-Boo CanyonFor long periods in early geological time, Southern Nevada was submerged under a shallow sea. It was during this period that the materials that now form the north-south mountain ranges on the Wildlife Refuge accumulated in rock layers. Folding from earthquakes or movement of the Pacific Plate lifted the deposited layers to form the mountains. Erosion has worn off the tops of the folds, exposing the colorful rock layers and patterns of the present landscape. The steep and generally bare mountain sides are cut by deep ravines and canyons.
Yucca ForestYucca Forest with Sheep Range in the background.Along much of the drive, there is a large expanse of abundant Mojave yucca and cactus.
Sawmill WashLate summer showers or cloudbursts are sporadic, localized, and often very intense causing rapid runoff and severe erosion features called washes. The deep wash in the northern end of the drive, which extends westerly to the crest of the Sheep Mountain Range, is named Sawmill Wash. Ponderosa pines at the head of this watershed were logged by early settlers from the Moapa Valley, hence the name Sawmill Canyon.

The major access point to the Desert National Wildlife Refuge can be reached by traveling North on Highway 95 approximately 23 miles from Las Vegas., where a sign on the east side of the highway marks the start of the four mile dirt road to the Corn Creek Field Station.

A large part of the wildlife refuge is closed to the public since it is also part of the Nellis Air Force Range. This section, the large block on the right of the map below, has no publicly accessible roads. The roads shown on the map (block on the left) provide general access to the public. Hiking, Camping, Picnicking, Backpacking, and horseback riding is permitted in the publicly accessible portion of the wildlife refuge.

Before traveling through the range, visitors are advised to check fuel, carry water, have a spare tire, and notify someone regarding travel plans.

For further information, contact:

  • Refuge Manager
  • Desert National Wildlife Refuge
  • 9604 Auction Road
  • 1500 North Decatur Boulevard
  • Las Vegas, Nevada 89108
  • Phone: 702-646-3401
  • website