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Wild Nevada

We explore several treasures that make the outdoors in Nevada so great


Photo: Beau Rogers

One of the most magnificent features of Nevada is our great outdoors. Whether you’re reeling in a rainbow trout as the sun fades behind the majestic Lamoille Canyon walls or conquering the frost-tipped Arc Dome peak, Nevada is brimming with wilderness that is waiting to be explored.

2014 is a special year for wilderness areas in Nevada. Fifty years ago—in 1964—President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law. The bill established the National Wilderness Preservation System and set aside an initial 9.1 million acres of wilderness (64,667 of which was in Nevada) for the use and benefit of the American people. The act defines “wilderness” as areas where the earth and its communities of life are left unchanged by people, where the primary forces of nature are in control, and where people themselves are visitors who do not remain. But for areas to remain unchanged and in harmony with the forces of nature, they must be respected and cared for.

Friends of Nevada Wilderness has been making major strides in improving and preserving public land in the state, ensuring Nevada wilderness can be enjoyed by generations to come. The organization is dedicated to preserving all qualified Nevada public lands as wilderness, protecting all present and potential wilderness from ongoing threats, educating the public about the values of and need for wilderness, and improving the management and restoration of wild lands. 2014 marks a special year for the organization, as it is celebrating its 30th anniversary. With a host of events planned throughout the year (see page 76), Friends of Nevada Wilderness hopes to spread the word about the great outdoors in Nevada.

Highlighted are several of the Silver State’s most noteworthy wilderness areas.

Year Designated: 1964
Acres: 113,167
County: Elko
The Jarbidge Wilderness spans 113,167 acres of high mountains and deep glaciated canyons in northeastern Elko County, and was the first designated wilderness area in Nevada. In 1964, the area covered 64,667 acres. The Nevada Wilderness Protection Act of 1989 added another 48,500 acres, expanding the area to its present size.

Extreme variations in elevation, moisture, and soil make it an area of beauty. It has eight peaks higher than 10,000 feet, some of which drop to canyons 4,000 feet below. Bright and varied colors of vegetation, soil, and rock complement the area’s spectacular topography and remoteness. It features low-elevation, shrub-dominated alpine ecosystems as well as some of Nevada’s finest mule deer habitat. Scenic vistas range from sagebrush flatland to rugged, rocky peaks.

Nevada is typically an arid state, but the Jarbidge Wilderness is curiously wet. Cottonwood trees are predominant along the streams at low elevations, and there are numerous intermittent streams, seeps, and small meadows. The area produces a spectacular wildflower show in early summer.
The range also includes Jarbidge Lake and Emerald Lake. Visitors can hike or horseback ride along ridge tops for miles down West Mary’s River, Mary’s River, East Fork Jarbidge, or many other streams, creeks, and rivers.

Access to the Jarbidge Wilderness is limited and requires a few hours driving over rough gravel roads, but is well worth the drive. The area contains approximately 150 miles of trails to carry visitors into the backcountry. The lower elevation trails open up in May and the upper trails are clear in June or July, depending on the snowpack.—Friends of Nevada Wilderness

Year Designated: 1989
Acres: 115,000
County: Nye
Arc Dome Wilderness, in the heart of the Toiyabe Mountain Range, is one of Nevada’s largest wilderness areas. Its 115,000 acres stretch from Ophir Summit in the north to Peavine Canyon in the south. The area contains the highest peaks in the range, along with several trout streams, spectacular scenery, and a diverse mix of landforms and ecosystems.

Approached from certain angles, Arc Dome doesn’t seem very arc-shaped and not very dome-like. The people who named it must have been looking at it from the southwest. From that vantage, in winter, white with snow from base to summit, it looks Himalayan.

The two flanks of the southern Toiyabe Range are oddly dissimilar. The west side is gentle, green, and open, and the east side is rugged, complicated, and enclosed. Three streams—optimistically called rivers—gather water from multiple sources and work their way down the mountain, with the Reese River going to the west, and the North Twin and South Twin rivers emerging from the very steep east side just a half mile apart.

The Arc Dome area is rich in wildlife, supporting a healthy mule deer population, sage grouse, chukar, and the usual native predators. Many migratory birds along with residents such as kestrels and red-shafted flickers nest in the aspen groves along the canyon bottoms.

The Arc Dome Wilderness makes up the southern third of the Toiyabe Range and, at its closest point, is only 45 miles north of Tonopah. The area is accessible by improved dirt roads from all sides and is within three miles of State Route 376.—Friends of Nevada Wilderness


Photo: Beau Rogers

Year Designated: 1989
Acres: 93,090
County: Elko
The Ruby Mountains Wilderness is characterized by tall, multi-faceted, granite-like peaks soaring above lush green meadows and sparkling sapphire-blue lakes. The rubies that the mountain range is named for are actually garnets—red semiprecious stones found in certain metamorphic rocks. Long and narrow, the Rubies stretch 100 miles and seldom stretch more than 10 miles wide.

The area is graced by valleys, clusters of lakes, and snow-fed streams flowing down the glacial valleys on the west side of the range. Because they were so heavily glaciated and have such abundant water, the Rubies represent the classic mountain wilderness. Glaciers scoured the northern end of the Rubies during the last ice age, creating the U-shaped Lamoille Canyon, also known as Nevada’s Yosemite.

South of Lamoille, you’ll encounter seven miles of lake basins and meadows before the terrain south of Furlong Lake turns into a narrow, grassy ridge that runs 20 miles to the Overland Lake basin. The Rubies include 10 peaks above 10,000 feet (Ruby Dome tops out at 11,387 feet) and more than two-dozen alpine lakes, rare treats in this arid state.

You’ll also find one of the largest populations of mule deer in Nevada, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and streams teeming with trout (including the Lahontan cutthroat). Himalayan snow cocks and Hungarian partridges have been introduced to the area and are doing well. Prehistoric hunting blinds and once-inhabited caves on high ridges indicate the area has been in use for a long time.—Friends of Nevada Wilderness

Year Designated: 2002
Acres: 48,019
County: Clark
Just an hour outside of Las Vegas’ urban sprawl lies an area of unique geology and colorful Mojave Desert habitat—the Muddy Mountains Wilderness. This landscape on the north shore of Lake Mead contains four areas that offer spectacular geology and a fragile desert ecosystem. The area measures 18 miles long and 14 miles wide.

The Muddy Mountains region offers shadowy slot canyons, unique geological formations, and expansive views of Lake Mead. Solitude and silence are as common as the narrow canyons and gravelly washes.

The colorful landscape of Lake Mead’s north shore supports a diverse and fascinating assortment of wildlife. Search the cliffs above and you might see desert bighorn sheep. You’ll also find desert creatures such as the banded Gila monster and the desert tortoise living near water lovers such as the American white pelican, white-faced ibis, and osprey.

For at least 4,000 years, people have lived in the area. Modern visitors might find reminders of their lives in the form of rock art panels, agave roasting pits, pueblo-style rock shelters, and chipping sites where they made their stone tools.

Although hundreds of miles inland, the geology of the Muddy Mountains region gives a telling glimpse into geologic time. About 300 million years ago, this area was sediment at the bottom of the sea. Today, area that was once sea floor comprises the limestone peaks that jut nearly 6,000 feet into the sky. Scattered among these peaks are fossilized sand dunes that have eroded into galleries and canyons, intricately carved and painted in shades of red, orange, and yellow.—Friends of Nevada Wilderness

Year Designated: 2004
Acres: 157,938
County: Lincoln
The Mormon Mountains region is a series of mountain ranges and canyons that offer colorful geology, majestic wildlife, archaeological sites, and beautiful country where one can escape city life. From rolling prairies speckled with cholla, yucca, and Joshua trees to intricately carved canyons forested with pinyon pine and juniper, each landscape contains inspiring beauty and surprises.

The various climates and elevations in the area provide important habitat for a wide spectrum of wildlife. An impressive variety of birds of prey live in the area.

Throughout the Mormon Mountains region are some of the most astonishing and valuable prehistoric sites in Nevada. In these areas are literally thousands of archaeological sites that offer telling glimpses into the lives of people who lived in the area hundreds and thousands of years ago. The explorer might find petroglyphs, pictographs, agave roasting pits, prehistoric campsites, rock shelters, grinding stones, and other evidence of past lives in the area.
—Friends of Nevada Wilderness

Year Designated: 2006
Acres: 42,544
County: White Pine
Goshute Canyon Wilderness lies in the Cherry Creek Range in northernmost White Pine County. It is a large landscape with a hidden canyon that feeds perennial streams full of native trout species. With a long, north-south trending ridgeline above 9,500 feet and a summit of 10,458 feet, Goshute is an ideal hiking destination with incredible views of the Ruby Mountains, just 50 miles away. Along its lower flanks on the east side, one can enter Goshute Cave—a network of limestone tunnels that connect large rooms. The area is a perfect destination for first-time cavers.


Photo: Kurt Kuznicki

The wilderness area is a study of contrasts. Brilliant yellow fall color and light-colored rock flare against the dark foliage of the evergreen canopy. The immense scale of topographic features can distort your sense of distance. Expansive meadows rimmed by craggy peaks create a vision of untouched natural beauty. Goshute and Carry Basins are watersheds for perennial streams.

Lower elevations are thickly forested by pinyon pine and juniper, while bristlecone and limber pine thrive in the higher elevations. Aspen and cottonwood crowd the moist drainages, providing a verdant, cool retreat. Large, high-elevation basins rimmed by naked peaks fill with wild flowers in spring and summer.—Friends of Nevada Wilderness

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Friends of Nevada Wilderness, 775-324-7667



Photo: ArcDomeWilderness by Kurt Kuznicki

Jarbidge Wilderness
Jarbidge Ranger District Office

Arc Dome Wilderness
Austin Ranger District Office

Ruby Mountains Wilderness
Ruby Mountains Ranger District Office

Muddy Mountains Wilderness
Las Vegas Field Office

Mormon Mountains Wilderness
Ely Field Office

Goshute Canyon Wilderness
Ely Field Office

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