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Lamoille Canyon, Northern Nevada
Birding Around Las Vegas, Favorite Places Far Away
Lemoille Canyon
Lemoille Canyon

Overview

The Ruby Mountains of Northeast Nevada provide high and rugged territory where Himalayan Snowcocks and Mountain Goats find refuge among rocky cliffs. Scenic Lamoille Canyon provides access to the high country and a plethora of birding opportunities, but a stout hike awaits any birder searching for birds among these high cliffs.

Lamoille Creek runs down this scenic glaciated canyon. In some places it does so over rocky cascades, while in others, it meanders through beaver ponds and open meadows. Throughout it provides water and habitat for wildlife.

Link to Map.

Lemoille Canyon

Location

Lamoille Canyon and the Ruby Mountains are located in Northeast Nevada, just south of the thriving city of Elko.

From Elko, Drive southeast on State Route 227 for 22 miles to the Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway, which is a right turn a short distance before reaching the town of Lamoille. Watch for highway signs. Follow Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway to Road's End at an elevation of 8,800 feet.

Lemoille Canyon

Hours

The area is always open.

Fees

None for access.

Lemoille Canyon

Lodging:

The city of Elko and surrounding towns provide full services.

Thomas Canyon Campground, with 40 sites, provides the only legal camping along the road. Backpacking is permitted everywhere.

Lemoille Canyon
Lamoille Canyon (view north)

Specialties

Himalayan Snowcocks and Mountain Goats -- what more is there to say?

For More Information

Link to official US Forest Service website.


Photo taken from prime Island Lake area viewing location high above the bench (view east)

Finding the Himalayan Snowcocks:

While we know the woods and meadows of Lamoille Canyon are full of wonderful things like mule deer, beavers, dusky grouse, black-crowned rosy finches, long-tailed weasels, and tons of dickey birds and raptors, who cares! We are looking for Snowcock!

Snowcocks live in the highest, most inaccessible places along the north end of the Ruby Crest; and did I forget to mention that people hunt them, so they are very skittish?

Lemoille Canyon
Snowcock feeding territory

Probably the "easiest" place to see them (he writes with a chuckle; there is nothing easy about this) is above Island Lake when the first rays of the morning sun hit the tips of the highest peaks. Because you need to be in place while it is still dark, you need to hike up and camp at Island Lake the day before, or strap on a headlamp and hike up in the pre-dawn darkness.

In July 2015, Rob Lowry writes on NVBIRDS@LIST.AUDUBON.ORG:

As I have mentioned in posts the past couple of years, I have had much better luck looking for Snowcocks along the Lamoille Lake Trail compared to the Island Lake Trail. The distance of both are about 2.3 miles one way. The Lamoille Lake Trail seems to be a gentler grade, one goes through more wooded areas along the Lamoille Lake Trail where other birds could be encountered, and when starting out in the morning, the Lamoille Lake Trail is in the shade and not directly exposed to the rising sun as is the Island Lake Trail (keeps it cooler).

Lemoille Canyon
Snowcock territory

Heading for Island Lake, from the end of the road at Road's End, hike the 2-mile trail to Island Lake. At Island Lake, hike off-trail and up onto the bench above and west of the lake (see photo). With a spotting scope, the bench is as far as you need to go.

As dawn breaks, but long before sunrise, you should hear the Snowcocks cackling as they wake up. Listen for them and try to figure out where on the tops of the ridges they were sleeping. You might be lucky and see them on the ledges or against the skyline.

Otherwise, keep watching and eventually they will fly down from the security of the ridgeline to forage on the rocky and grassy slopes below. For as big as they are, this is vast country, so keep a close eye as they fly and don't lose them when they land in the rocks.

Lemoille Canyon

When I had my chance to see these birds, I hiked in the day before and slept among the rocks in the talus slopes below the highest cliffs (yellow arrow). During the afternoon and evening, I neither saw nor heard Snowcocks, but I did photograph American pika and mountain goats.

I awoke and packed camp in the early morning darkness, and as dawn started to dim the stars, the Snowcocks started clucking at the top of the mountain above me (black arrow). They clucked a fair bit, and when the first rays of the sun hit them, they flew down and then across the mountain side to the ridgeline far to the north (red arrow). I suspect they saw me the day before or in the morning, so they flew away, and I had to spend the rest of the morning clamoring among the peaks and cliffs to finally get a good view of one near the summit of Full House Peak (left edge of photo). Of course, it flew off -- more than a mile, to the mountain across the valley.

Happy birding! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 150708

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