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Cow Camp Road
Backroads Around Las Vegas, Desert National Wildlife Refuge
Cow Camp Road
Cow Camp Road
Alamo Road at Cow Camp Road sign (view N)

Overview

Cow Camp Road is a side road off Alamo Road that runs from desert flats up to the west edge of the Sheep Range. The road provides sightseeing and camping opportunities, plus hiker access to Cow Camp Spring, Wagon Canyon, and Picture Canyon, and several other destinations.

The road is bumpy in most places but seems to get better the farther out you go, and it is fine for 2WD high-clearance vehicles in good weather. The road runs in the wash through a gap in the Black Hills, and while the road can be a bit sandy, but always has been firm enough for 2WD vehicles.

Link to map.

Cow Camp Road
Alamo Road at Cow Camp Road (view N)

The main road ends at the edge of a shady wash high on the bajada beneath the Sheep Range. Beyond the sandy wash, the old road serves as a trail that continues to the edge of the range, which seems to jut out of the ground in this area. A side road leads to an old corral below a pour-over at the base of the mountains.

This is a nice road for a drive in the desert or an easy way to get away from town to camp out in the desert, but it is wild and remote country.

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

Cow Camp Road
Cow Camp Road Campsite

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about the desert ... Cow Camp Road generally is a good dirt road, but it runs out into wild and remote country. There are no services or developments of any kind. Cell phones might work, but don't count on it. Bring water and food, a good spare tire, a shovel, tools, a tow rope, bailing wire (I learned the hard way) and anything else that you might need to survive a night stuck out in the desert.

While out there, please respect the land and the other people out there, and try to Leave No Trace of your passage. Also, this road leads to remote country, so be sure to bring the 10 Essentials. This is a wildlife refuge, so pay extra attention to respecting the land.

Cow Camp Road
Beginning of Cow Camp Road

Location

Cow Camp Road is located on the Desert National Wildlife Refuge and starts about 1-1/4 hours northwest of Las Vegas. To get there, drive out to the Information Kiosk (Table 1, Site 0106) at the Corn Creek Field Station.

Continue east for about 250 feet to a T-intersection with a large sign (Site 0731). Turn left onto Alamo Road and drive north for 8.7 miles to the signed intersection with Cow Camp Road (Site 0992). Note that the big sign incorrectly states the distance is 12 miles. For details of Alamo Road, including road conditions, see the Alamo Road page.

Cow Camp Road
Approaching a wash (0.2 miles out)

The Road

Cow Camp Road (Site 0992) departs Alamo Road at Cow Camp Road Campsite, a large, flat, smooth area set off by post-and-cable fencing. A symbol sign translates to "no fires" but an old and well used campfire ring marks the site.

Cow Camp Road angles to the right and runs northeast towards a gap in the Black Hills and on towards the Sheep Range. The road once was graded, but it has not been maintained in years, so it is getting rough, and storms during 2012 contributed to the washout problems.

Cow Camp Road

The road crosses a sandy wash about 0.23 miles out, then climbs gentle slopes to the northeast. Vegetation in this area is sparse and stunted compared to other areas. Storms coming from the west drop their moisture in the Spring Mountains, leaving little to fall in this area and creating a "rain shadow."

The road climbs gently until entering the gap in the Black Hills (2.1 miles out). Here, the road hugs the south edge of the hills until forced into the wash. Drivers in 2WD vehicles should evaluate this area carefully before driving into potentially soft sand, although the wash historically has been firm enough for 2WD.

In the gap, several sets of well casings protrude from the soil. I don't know the history or significance of these wells.

Cow Camp Road

Past the Black Hills (3.2 miles out), the road leaves the wash and continues climbing the bajada heading northeast. Here the grade is steeper, but still fairly gentle. Eventually two hills come into view, and as the road runs between them, a large, fairly level, smooth area set off by post-and-cable fencing can be seen on the left (Site 1339; 4.4 miles out). On the rocky knob above the campsite, a Native American rock shelter and agave roasting pits can be seen; hence, I refer to this campsite at Rock Shelter Camp. This is also trailhead parking for Picture Canyon.

Cow Camp Road continues up the bajada where the vegetation is now more dense and robust, the result of better moisture conditions relative to lower elevations. The road passes the toe of a ridge on the left and shortly arrives at a fork (Site 0993; 5.2 miles out).

Cow Camp Road

Cow Camp Road continues somewhat more steeply to the left and climbs onto a high plain thick with shrubs including Blackbrush and Joshua Trees, forming a vegetation association typical of these higher-elevation Mojave Desert slopes. The road eventually ends at a turn-about on the edge of a sandy wash (Site 1340; 6.0 miles out). This is the trailhead for Wagon Canyon, but there is no defined parking or camping space, so drivers will have to park in the road or in the bushes.

From the fork in the road (Site 0933), the right fork, Cow Camp Corral Road, runs 0.6 miles into a short box canyon that ends at the base of a pour-over with an historic corral and camp area. This is also the trailhead for Cow Camp Spring. For details and photos, see Cow Camp Corral Road.

Cow Camp Road
Black Hills ahead
Cow Camp Road
Gap in the Black Hills
Cow Camp Road
Entering the gap in the Black Hills
Cow Camp Road
One of several well casings in the wash
Cow Camp Road
Road on south side of the gap
Cow Camp Road
Crossing the wash
Cow Camp Road
Two well casings in the wash
Cow Camp Road
Road runs in the wash
Cow Camp Road
Road runs in the wash
Cow Camp Road
Past the gap, the road still runs in the wash
Cow Camp Road
Finally out of the wash and on firm ground
Cow Camp Road
Climbing the bajada
Cow Camp Road Cow Camp Road
Cow Camp Road
Passing rocky knob on the left
Cow Camp Road
Fence protecting rock shelter site
Cow Camp Road
Approaching Rock Shelter Campsite
Cow Camp Road
Happy campers at Rock Shelter Campsite
Cow Camp Road
Happy campers at Rock Shelter Campsite
Cow Camp Road
Road continuing above campsite
Cow Camp Road Cow Camp Road
Cow Camp Road
Notice the think vegetation
Cow Camp Road
Fork in the road (Site 0993)
Cow Camp Road
Fairly steep hillside
Cow Camp Road
Still fairly steep hillside
Cow Camp Road
Still fairly steep hillside
Cow Camp Road
Road leveling out on broad plain
Cow Camp Road
Lots of Joshua Tree and Blackbrush
Cow Camp Road
Turn-about at the end of the road
Cow Camp Road
Turn-about at the end of the road
Cow Camp Road
Sandy wash and closed road beyond the turn-about

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

Site Location UTM Easting UTM Northing Latitude (N) Longitude (W) Elevation (ft) Verified
0106 Corn Creek parking area 647225 4033632 36.43844 115.35745 2,814 Yes
0731 Corn Creek Rd at Mormon-Alamo Rd 647307 4033624 36.43836 115.35654 2,814 Yes
0992 Alamo Rd at Cow Camp Rd 643589 4046289 36.55306 115.39564 3,547 Yes
0993 Cow Camp Rd at Fork 650517 4049638 36.58217 115.31761 5,128 Yes
0994 Cow Camp Corral Parking 651250 4049944 36.58481 115.30937 5,239 Yes
1339 Rock Shelter Camp 649381 4049292 36.57923 115.33038 4,814 GPS
1340 Cow Camp North Fork End 651215 4050587 36.59062 115.30963 5,412 GPS

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 121028

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