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Joe May Canyon Guzzler
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Desert National Wildlife Refuge
Joe May Canyon Guzzler
Joe May Canyon
Start of the route (guzzler behind ridge; view N)


Joe May Canyon is a 5,000 to 6,000-ft elevation valley that runs parallel to, and on the west side of, the Sheep Range. The valley floor is broad and flat (crosswise), but fairly steep (lengthwise), and several canyons come down from the crest of the Sheep Range and terminate here. There is no trail, but the main wash provides easy access up the valley, at least to the sheep guzzler (a man-made water hole), which is about 1.6 miles out. Native peoples left their mark here, and desert bighorn sheep still use it.

Link to a map.

For general information on camping, regulations, other issues, and the natural history of the Wildlife Refuge, see the Desert National Wildlife Refuge -- Area Overview page.

joe may canyon
Hiker in Joe May Wash (view N)

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...this is a pretty safe hike. Hiking in loose gravel is tiring, more tiring than might be expected, so don't overestimate the speed at which you will be able to hike up the canyon. Depending on recent weather conditions, a 2WD-HC vehicle should make it to the trailhead, but call the refuge manager if you have questions.

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.

This is a wildlife refuge, so pay extra attention to respecting the land. Please, don't bother the bighorn sheep. They have a hard enough time making a living in these desert lands; they don't need extra stress from people hanging around the water hole.

joe may canyon
Looking back down Joe May Wash (view S)

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located on the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, about 1.5 hours north of town.

From town, drive out to Corn Creek Field Station and continue east 50 yards to a T-intersection. Turn left onto Alamo Road and drive north for 3.1 miles to Joe May Road. Turn right onto Joe May Road and drive east towards the mouth of Joe May Canyon.

As the road starts into the canyon, it passes gray limestone cliffs on the left (north), an old closed road on the left (which is the trail), and shortly an old corral and some stonework. The corral is just before the road goes up a hill that looks a bit 4WD-ish, most of 4 miles from Alamo Road. Park here; this is as good as it gets for the trailhead.

joe may canyon
Hiker on ridgeline below guzzler (view NE)

The Hike

From the trailhead (Table 2, Waypoint 01), the route runs north-northwest down and across the washes towards a cave at the base of limestone cliffs across the wash (Wpt. 02). From the trailhead, the cave looks deep and interesting; it is not, but getting to that point puts hikers in the Joe May Wash.

joe may canyon
Hiker at the drinker (view NW)

The route runs up Joe May Wash for about 1.2 miles. The wash stays against the western edge of the valley, following along the base of the limestone cliffs and hills. Eventually, a side canyon to the west opens up (Wpt. 03). The route turns west and runs up the side canyon. Shortly the water collector above the guzzler (Wpt. 4) becomes visible.

The water collector is a big tin roof elevated a few feet off the ground. Water drains towards the middle of the collector, and then down into holding tanks. The water comes out at a drinker about 50 feet down the ridge.

While in this area, watch the hills for bighorn sheep and other wildlife, visit the guzzler briefly, and then back off a long ways (perhaps back to the edge of the main canyon). Find a comfortable spot for lunch, and watch for wildlife.

joe may canyon
Upper Joe May Canyon (view N from near guzzler)
Native people used these mountains. One sign of their presence is a large agave-roasting pit on the west side of the wash, just upstream from the "not so interesting cave." Watch for what looks like a large pile of mine tailings. If you hike up the hill above the agave roasting pit to where you can get a good view from above, you will see that the pit is actually two pits. There appears to be a small, older pit near the wash and a larger pit above (partially overlying) the smaller one. These, and all archaeological sites, are protected by law; please do not disturb anything here. Places like this are good for spending a few minutes contemplating life in the desert without modern amenities. Consider what it would have been like to sit here a few thousand years ago, chatting with the neighbors and roasting your Utah agave. You might consider, for example, where would you get your firewood and agave, and what you would do for food, water, and shelter.
Joe May Canyon Guzzler
Rock arch on ridge above the trailhead
Joe May Canyon
Cave and agave roasting pits across Joe May Wash
Joe May Canyon
Hiker at the cave (not so interesting after all)
Joe May Canyon
Agave roasting pits (view NW from Joe May Wash)
Joe May Canyon
Limestone outcrop and penstemon flowers
Joe May Canyon
Joe May Wash (view NW from above roasting pits)
Joe May Canyon
Joe May Wash and jeep at trailhead (view S)
joe may canyon
Biggest agave roasting pit I've ever seen (view NE)

Table 2. Hiking Coordinates Based on GPS Data (NAD27, UTM Zone 11S). Download Hiking GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Wpt. Location Easting Northing Elevation (ft) Point-to-Point Distance (mi) Cumulative Distance (mi) Verified
01 Joe May Canyon trailhead 651650 4041656 5,050 0.00 0.00 Yes
02 Wash at base of limestone cliffs 651593 4041811 5,022 0.10 0.10 GPS
03 Side canyon to the west 651975 4043420 5,550 1.07 1.17 GPS
04 Joe May Guzzler 651830 4043925 5,730 0.40 1.57 GPS

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 140225

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