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Birding Around Wheeler Camp Spring
Birding Around Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
wheeler camp spring
wheeler camp
Parking at Wheeler Camp Springs (view S)

Description

Wheeler Camp Spring is a Red Rock Audubon Preserve along Red Rock Wash that was established to protect a small strip of riparian vegetation in the desert. Red Rock Wash normally goes dry in the summer after the snow in the surrounding mountains melts off, and most of the wash is bordered by typical Mojave Desert Scrub vegetation. At Wheeler Camp, however, impermeable rock layers force underground water to the surface, where it flows for a short distance down Red Rock Wash. The surface water, in turn, supports a desert oasis with a shady meadow, tall Fremont's cottonwood trees, desert willow, and honey mesquite thickets, all of which is surrounded by dry Mojave Desert Scrub (e.g., Joshua trees, creosote bush, white bursage, and fourwing saltbush).

wheeler camp
Treetop views from across the wash (view NE)

Water emerges in three areas: the wash just below the parking area, the wash at the far southeast end of the Preserve, and the meadow under the biggest Fremont's cottonwood trees. In the wash, the upstream spring usually flows until summer, but it eventually dries during the desert heat. Water is always present in the wash at the lower end of the preserve. The spring under the trees makes for soggy soils early in the year, but it dries up during summer too.

Location

Wheeler Camp Spring is located in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area on the west side of the Las Vegas Valley, about 30 minutes from downtown, but not on the Scenic Loop.

wheeler camp
Meadow and large cottonwood trees (view NE)

From town, drive out to Red Rocks. From Charleston Blvd at the Scenic Loop Road (Table 1, Site 0519), continue west and south on Charleston Blvd (Highway 159) for 6.7 miles to the Wheeler Camp access road (Site 0107). There are no signs on the highway, so the easiest way to find Wheeler Camp for the first time is to go all the way to the town of Blue Diamond (which has a good city park for birding), then turn around and drive back north for 0.8 miles to the first little dirt road on the left (south) side of the highway. After making the turn, a small Audubon sign is visible at the entrance to the parking area. From the highway, watch for the large cottonwood trees in the wash.

This is an Audubon preserve run by the Red Rock Audubon Society. Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints, and be sure to close all gates.

wheeler camp
Spring pool down the wash

Short Loop Trail

From the parking area, walk south through the gate (be sure to close it securely) and down the old road towards the wash. Just across the wash, a trail branches off and runs down along the south side of the wash; this is the end of the loop. The old road continues up the other side of the wash heading for higher ground beyond the trees and mesquite thickets. The bluff gives a good tree-top view into the thickets. When the old road drops into a gully, a trail branches off to the left (north) and runs down into the mesquite thicket and under the tallest cottonwood trees. The old road continues east to the town of Blue Diamond and is heavily used by mountain bike riders and people on horseback.

wheeler camp
Oak trees along dry wash

From the meadow under the cottonwoods, walk down the wash (no trail) for a short distance to where water flows in the creek. This isn't the most scenic creek, but the water attracts birds and other wildlife.

After birding along the spring and creek, walk back up the wash to the meadow. From the meadow, follow the trail along the south side of the wash back to the old road. You can just walk up the wash too.

Hours

Day-use only: sunrise to sunset.

wheeler camp spring
Mix of trees, desert, and water (view NW)

Fees

None.

Specialties

Desert species (e.g., Western Scrub-jay, Verdin, Anna's Hummingbird, Mourning Dove, Phainopepla, House Finch, Gambel's Quail, Bewick's Wren) can be found here all year. During migration, watch for warblers, tanagers, orioles, Warbling Vireo, and other species as they pass through the area. During summer, this is a good site for Cooper's Hawk, warblers, flycatchers, and sparrows. Watch for Pacific Treefrogs in the creek, and watch for yellow-backed spiny lizards, coyotes, and small mammals (e.g., white-tailed antelope squirrel, black-tailed jackrabbit; kangaroo rat tracks and burrows in the sand). This probably is a good place for rattlesnakes too, so watch your step on trails in the overgrown areas.

Wheeler Camp Spring
Water always flows downstream from the largest trees (view SE)
Wheeler Camp Spring

Aerial image of the Wheeler Camp area. Light gray is desert scrub; dark gray is vegetation (mostly trees). Dashed yellow lines mark old dirt roads; solid yellow lines mark the trail and the route down the wash. Orange is the access road and parking area. North is at the top, base image from the US Geological Survey.

Table 1. Highway Coordinates (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Highway GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Site # Location Latitude (°N) Longitude (°W) UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (feet) Verified
0107 Wheeler Camp 36.0541 115.4180 642489 3990909 3485 Yes
0519 Charleston Blvd at Scenic Loop Entrance 36.1318 115.4206 642120 3999525 3681 Yes

Happy birding! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 120901

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