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Desert Dry Lake Windmill Site -- Historical Site
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Desert National Wildlife Refuge
Desert Dry Lake Windmill
Desert Dry Lake Well
Desert Dry Lake Well Trailhead (view W)

Overview

Out in the seldom visited, far northern end of Desert National Wildlife Refuge lies Desert Dry Lake, a playa that covers some 15 square miles. On the edge of the lake sits the site of an historic well and windmill that stands in silent testament to the hopes and hard work of ranchers, the slow progression and despair of a drying climate, and the ravages of time. The windmill that pumped water from the well is entirely gone (probably used somewhere else), but the wellhead and curious debris remain.

When cattlemen first arrived in these parts, the land had been wetter than average and grasses and cattle flourished. Before long, the drying trend resumed, and ranchers needed to make "improvements" on the land to keep the cows watered. Here, they drilled a well on the edge of the playa and built watering troughs where cattle could drink. But the land continued to dry, and now the cows and windmill are gone. The land now lies silent, except for the wind whistling around the few remaining uprights.

Link to a map.

Desert Dry Lake Well
The old road serves as the Desert Dry Lake Well Trail (view W)

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...this is a safe hike. Depending on road conditions, the trailhead might be accessible with a 2WD-HC vehicle, but inquire locally or use a 4WD vehicle just to be sure. In this area, Alamo Road can get pretty muddy after rainstorms: don't drive in muddy places -- you may never get out.

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and try to Leave No Trace of your passage. Also, even though this hike is fairly short, it is remote, so be sure to bring the 10 Essentials, even if you leave them in your vehicle. This is a wildlife refuge, so pay extra attention to respecting the land and the wildlife out there. Don't remove items of historical interest -- leave for future generations the thrill of discovery and the enjoyment of old junk.

Desert Dry Lake Well
Approaching Desert Dry Lake Windmill Site (view W)

Location

Desert Dry Lake is located on the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, but up towards Alamo (northeast of Las Vegas), and it is a full day trip to get there from Las Vegas.

From town, drive north on Interstate-15 for 21 miles to Exit 64. Exit onto Highway 93 northbound. Consider topping off the gas tank at the truck stop, as this is the last gas station except for going out-of-your-way to Alamo.

At 66.5 miles out, turn left onto Pahranagat Visitor Center Road, then stay right onto Alamo Road (North). Drive south, then west, and south again. Pass North Dunes, the large and obvious white sand dunes, on the left, and head towards South Dunes, smaller dunes farther ahead on the left.

Continue south on Alamo Road North for a total of 26.6 miles to a faint spur road on the right. Park here; this is the trailhead for the historic windmill.

Desert Dry Lake Windmill Site
Desert Dry Lake Windmill Site (view W)

The Hike

From the trailhead (Table 1, Wpt. 01), an old road runs northwest about 300 yards to the edge of the playa and the site of the old windmill (Wpt. 02). All that remains is the well casing, a couple of rusting watering troughs, and a few other bits and pieces of historic debris.

This is an interesting site where modern visitors can contemplate the rigors of making a living in these remote desert lands in the old days and how ranchers did what they could to stave off the day when changing climate would dry out the land and force them away.

Desert Dry Lake Well
Curious structure (view S)
Desert Dry Lake Well
Curious structure (view SW)
Desert Dry Lake Well
Curious structure (view W)
Desert Dry Lake Well
Curious structure (view NW)
Desert Dry Lake Well
Curious structure (view N)
Desert Dry Lake Well
Curious structure and old cans (view N)
Desert Dry Lake Well
Brush-like wood and straw features inside the curious structure
Desert Dry Lake Well
Spring on upright part of curious structure (view NW)
Desert Dry Lake Well
Old cans below curious structure
Desert Dry Lake Well
Old can below curious structure (view W)
Desert Dry Lake Well
Old can below curious structure (this can be dated; view NW)
Desert Dry Lake Well
The bunnies have been here
Desert Dry Lake Well
Walking over to the windmill Site (view N)
Desert Dry Lake Well
Fractured stone; worked by native peoples?
Desert Dry Lake Well
Approaching the Windmill Site (view N)
Desert Dry Lake Well
Windmill Site (view N)
Desert Dry Lake Well
Windmill Site (view E)
Desert Dry Lake Well
Windmill Site (view NE)
Desert Dry Lake Well
Mine equipment used for watering trough (view E)
Desert Dry Lake Well
Well casing, watering trough, fence post, and debris (view NE)
Desert Dry Lake Well
Fence post, barbed wire, and debris
Desert Dry Lake Well
Watering trough (view SE)
Desert Dry Lake Well
Windmill Site and debris (view NW)
Desert Dry Lake Well
Windmill Site and well casing (view NW)
Desert Dry Lake Well
Curious structure (view N)
Desert Dry Lake Well
Curious structure (view S)
Desert Dry Lake Well
Old well casing and debris
Desert Dry Lake Well
Historic watering trough
Desert Dry Lake Well
Historic watering trough (view NE)
Desert Dry Lake Well
Historic windmill site (view N)

Table 1. Hiking Coordinates and Distances based on GPS Data (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Hiking GPS Waypoints (gpx) file.

Wpt. Location UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (ft) Point-to-Point Distance (mi) Cumulative Distance (mi)
01 Desert Dry Lake Well Trailhead 660689 4090866 3,215 0.00 0.00
02 Dry Lake Well 660484 4090996 3,209 0.15 0.15
01 Desert Dry Lake Well Trailhead 660689 4090866 3,215 0.15 0.30

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 171218

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