The Nature Conservancy calls Ash Meadows “one of the most important natural areas on the North American continent”. Only 30 miles east of Death Valley National Park, one of the hottest places on Earth, Ash Meadows is teaming with wildlife. There are so many critters here that the area has become one of the more than 560 National Wildlife Refuges administered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Ash Meadows has a higher number of endemic species than any other place in the United States, making it the 2nd greatest concentration in North America. Some of them are endangered. It’s the largest remaining oasis in the Mojave Desert. Why is this terrific destination not better known? Perhaps its high number of endemic and endangered species is the reason. Endemic means those species are not found anywhere else on Earth.
Ash Meadows didn’t become a part of the National Wildlife Refuge system until 1984 when it became involved in a national controversy. Its visitor center is only 4 years old. Ash Meadows is the biggest attraction on a very scenic route that takes travelers from Amargosa Valley, NV to Baker, CA via Highways 373, which provides a road to Ash Meadows South Entrance, and highway 127. Both are paved. Two sections of 127 skirt Death Valley.
Until 10,000 years ago lakes filled this high valley. Wetlands, springs, and small streams are still found throughout this refuge. Ash Meadows is the ancestral home of the Nuwavi people, also called Southern Paiute or Western Shoshone. It was their home because 7 major and 40 smaller springs remain in Ash Meadows. One of the major springs fills what is called Devil’s Hole, which is about 3½ miles from the visitor center. More than 500 feet deep, this limestone cave may hold the deepest water in North America. No one knows for sure since its bottom has never been reached. These springs’ waters range from 65 to 93°.
Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is home to one of the highest numbers of threatened species of any national refuge. The endemic species known as the Amargosa Pupfish still lives in deep Devil’s Hole. Less than an inch long, these tiny fish become increasingly blue during mating season, April through October. By the early 1970s their hole’s water level had dropped so much that they became an endangered species. The U.S. Supreme Court had to limit groundwater pumping to save them. They remain endangered because nearby Las Vegas always demands more water.
Out National Wildlife Refuge System continues to save the pupfish, and it brought the American Bald Eagle back from extinction. There are almost 300 endangered plants and animals in its territories. Ash Meadows is a great place to learn about their mission and their work.