Getting to the Wheeler Pass Herd Management Area is a snap once you get out of Las Vegas! Congestion on I-15 is bad, to say the least, at any time of the day or night. And the interchange between I-15 and US-95 is a real adventure! One mistake and you could end up back downtown or heading out of town on US93!
We found the best way to get around this mess is to take Nevada 215, the Bruce Woodbury Beltway. You'll miss all of the traffic and save about a half hour of travel time. You can access the Beltway from I-15 just south of McCarran Airport and from the Strip by West Tropicana or West Flamingo Avenues.
Once you get to US95 North it's an easy 22.5 miles to the Cold Creek turn off. But about 10 miles north of Vegas, watch for a Brown Sign on the right side of the highway for Corn Creek. We'll talk more about Corn Creek later.
Continue on for about 10 more miles and you should see a large Prison Complex on the left side of the highway. Watch for a Green Sign on the right side of the highway for Cold Creek (Nevada 202).
This sign was a lot smaller when I first visited the Wheeler Pass HMA and if you didn't know it was there you would motor right past it!
Turn left and cross the highway onto Cold Creek Road. You have just entered the Eastern Section of the Wheeler Pass Herd Management Area!
I have never seen Wild Horses around the Prison Areas but that doesn't mean that aren't there. Keep your eyes open on both sides of the road all of the way to the Village of Cold Creek,
Wheeler Pass HMA and the Spring Mountains Recreation Area can also be accessed by Road 553. You will find it about 10 miles north on Indian Springs an US95. Look for a Brown Sign for National Forest Access on the right side of the road.
I took some time on my last trip to do a little exploring in this area. There were many well signed dirt roads that could be easily traveled by a passenger car, but to be on the safe side, a high clearance SUV would be better suited for the terrain.
I saw many signs that horses had been in the area but never made any sightings. I did see Elk and Bobcat tracks around the ruins of an old corral. The tracks could have been a Mountain Lion, they certainly were big enough, but I couldn't be sure.
The Wheeler Pass Herd Management Area is actually divided into two separate sections by the Spring Mountain Recreation Area, the green area in the center of the map.
It covers 273,260 acres and has an estimated Wild Horse population of 81 individuals.
It is bounded on the East by US-95. The North boundary is the 177,310 acre Johnnie HMA whose Wild Horse population is estimated at 35. Highway 160 forms the West boundary of the Western Section and the 152,251 acre Red Rock HMA with it's estimated 31 Wild Horses and 191 Wild Burros make up the Southern boundary.
Other animals that make their homes in the Spring Mountains Recreation Area and the Wheeler Pass HMA are Elk, Mule Deer, Coyotes, Bobcats, Jack Rabbits and Mountain Lion. Keep a sharp eye out. There is no telling what you might see!
We have just been informed that the Wheeler Pass Road has been closed by residents because a few thoughtless individuals have been driving/riding fast, raising dust and harassing pets. When visiting the Cold Creek Area, drive slowly and please be respectful of the residents and property owners. This is a great place to explore and view Wild Horses and it could be lost to us due to the actions of a few "bone heads"!
We are still trying to confirm this report. If you are planning a trip to the Wheeler Pass HMA or the Wheeler Pass Road or have visited recently, we would like to hear from you!
We have just returned from the Wheeler Pass HMA and are happy to report that the Wheeler Pass Road is now open again! You will have to cross some private property which is signed "TRAVEL AT YOUR OWN RISK". The road has not changed and can be traveled in a street car. Please respect the rights of the residents and property owners of the Cold Creek Area. More information and some pictures will be posted later.
Cold Creek has no services so make sure you fill up in Las Vegas. It does have a lot of friendly residents, though! There is fuel in Indian Springs but be prepared to pay a premium price. Bring plenty of food and water. If you are planning to camp, Bonanza primitive campground, now called the Cold Creek Ranch Historic Site, is located off Road 601, just before you get to Cold Creek.
It is just a large open area for parking and what is left of the old Cold Creek Ranch. It has no restroom facilities, no shade and can be very hot in the summer. Motor homes, ATV and motorcycle riders use this area.
Below this area is a new, larger open parking area and a pond. The pond was just rebuilt this year and is stocked with fish. In fact the Fish and Game truck came by to stock the pond just after I arrived.
I believe a Nevada Fishing License is required if you want to fish there, but am not sure. Some local fishermen showed up around four o'clock in the afternoon and stayed til around sundown. They didn't seem to mind the curious horses or that they didn't seem to be having any luck!
The Willow Creek Campground is located about 4 miles from Cold Creek on Road 601 to Wheeler Pass. The last quarter mile down to the Campground is steep and can be very slippery when wet!
It is also primitive with no water or restroom facilities. It does have some shade and is also higher and slightly cooler but harder to get to than the Cold Creek Ranch Campground. The first road into Willow Creek off of Wheeler Pass Road is short, very steep and suitable for short wheelbase SUVs and four wheel drives. I did take my four wheel drive van in and out that way, but I would not recommend it! That way in would be impassable in wet weather!
Follow Wheeler Pass Road down toward Willow Creek. Just before you cross the creek, you'll see a road on the left between the bushes and the fence that will take you into the camping area.
The fence is in place to help protect the creek (Willow Creek is one of the only year round creeks in Southern Nevada) and allow the surrounding vegetation to become healthy. This is a good place to spot horses in the morning and evening. You may also see deer, elk, rabbits, coyotes and other small mammals.
I have never camped there because it is so close to the creek and the animals living in the area are under enough stress just trying to survive in this harsh environment. Wild Horses will travel up to ten miles round trip to a water source every two days in the winter and every day in the summer months.
I have tried to make it up the Wheeler Pass Road to the Wheeler Wash Charcoal Ovens for the past two years with no luck. There has always been too much snow! We will try to make it on our trip this fall so be sure to check back for information and pictures.
Spring and Fall are the times of the year I like to visit the Wheeler Pass Area. Day time temperatures can range from the 50's to the 80's so bring along some sun screen. Nights can be cool to cold! Be prepared if you plan to camp.
The end of March thru the 1st of May is the best time to see baby horses. Our last visit was in the middle of April and we spotted three foals and many pregnant mares.
All the dirt roads should be passable at this time, should you decide to explore them. But be very careful if they are wet or if there is a chance of rain. It doesn't take too much rain to make some of the steeper roads impassable to even "Hard Core" four wheel drive vehicles. Be very aware of the weather, it can change in just a few minutes in the Wheeler Pass Area.
Winter is definitively not the best time to visit Wheeler Pass unless you come expecting the unexpected! It can be relatively warm with the sun shining one minute and the next the temperature can drop very quickly and it can start snowing.
In fact, two years ago this exact thing happened to me while exploring a not very well traveled dirt track. It got to snowing so hard that I couldn't see more than a few meters in any direction. It was a complete white out!
When I got turned around I couldn't even see my own tire tracks! If I wouldn't have had my Garmin GPS loaded with a topographical map of the area, I would have had to sit out the storm where I was, hoping that it wouldn't last too long.
As it turned out, it stopped snowing just as I made it back to the main dirt road leading to Cold Creek. Thirty minutes later the sun was back out!
As the hot days of summer approach, the horses of the Wheeler Pass Bands will move up to higher elevations during the day, making finding them difficult. If you do visit in the Summer be aware that daytime temperatures can reach well over 100 degrees, so hang out in Vegas and have fun during the heat of the day. Your best chances of seeing horses will be around the village of Cold Creek or around Willow Creek in the early morning or the evening as the sun is setting.
If you decide to take the drive out to Willow Creek, be very mindful of the fact that this is the only year round creek in southern Nevada. Summer is a very stressful time for all animals living in the desert and water is critical to their survival so please observe them from a distance around water sources.
The best place to see the Wild Horses is along the road to the Village of Cold Creek and at the newly constructed pond. They can be seen just about any time of day but mornings and evenings seem to be a little better.
On my last trip I camped for two nights in the scrub about 100 meters from the new pond. This was a great place for spotting Wild Horses and other animals. Just set up your chair and cameras and wait. I usually camp off Road 572, back in the canyon away from people and water. Even doing this I still have visitors from time to time. Mostly horses and coyotes but a visitor is a visitor!
Horses can also be seen around the Willow Creek Campground. The roads aren't as good back there and if you don't have a high clearance 4x4, I wouldn't venture beyond the campground. The horses in this area are not as used to humans as the horses around Cold Creek, so locating and photographing them can be difficult.
I have seen horses along Road 572. This road can be accessed from Cold Creek Road. Watch for a sign that says Viewing Area on the right side of the road. It's hard to spot! If you come to the Spring Mountain Recreation Area Sign, you've missed it!
The road is rough but a passenger car should be able to make it to the Tee at the end. Scan the wash to the left and along the base of the mountains for horses. The left fork (high clearance 4x4) goes through a tight canyon and ends up at Indian Springs. The right fork (high clearance 4x4) continues along the mountains and eventually ends up at US95.
The Desert National Wildlife Refuge is a Must See if you are visiting the Wheeler Pass Area in the spring or fall. Summer can be really hot until you get to the higher elevations and in winter rain and snow can make the roads impassable.
Do you remember that Brown Sign for Corn Creek we said we would talk about later? It marks the entrance road the DNWR!
The Refuge is located approximately 20 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada. Travel to the Refuge from Las Vegas on Highway 95 North, turning right at the Refuge Sign. If you are coming from Wheeler Pass, it would be a left turn across the highway.
Desert is the largest National Wildlife Refuge in the continental United States, more than 1.5 million acres! It was established by the executive order of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 for the protection and preservation of desert bighorn sheep and their habitat.
The Refuge is large enough to cover the state of Rhode Island twice, and still have room left over a quarter of a million football fields,
Perpetuating the desert Bighorn Sheep and its habitat is the most important objective of the range. The Refuge Bighorn Sheep population in 2001 was 700. The Range actively improves Bighorn habitats by developing new water sources and maintaining and improving existing ones. Numerous other wildlife species share the range with bighorns including Elk, Bobcat, Mule Deer, Jack Rabbit and Mountain Lion.
There are no Wild Horses on the Refuge at this time, but Wild Burros have been sighted on the northern part of the range.
In the harsh deserts of the American West, water means life. Many of the dozens of springs that once dotted Las Vegas’ broad valley are now silent and dry.
Today only a few springs located around the Valley’s fringes still flow. Corn Creek Field Station, located on the Desert National Wildlife Refuge is one such place. Here, clear fresh water wells up from the ground and flows downhill to a small reservoir made by Corn Creek’s first European settlers.
The Corn Creek Field Station is a treasure trove of history and prehistory—a unique remnant of our past. Range/Refuge staff work out of the Field Station, which includes a visitors center.
The roads in Desert are maintained, well signed and usually in good shape. I would suggest you stop at the Visitor's Center, talk to the person on duty and pick up a copy of the Nevada Road and Recreation Atlas.
There is a very good map of the Wildlife Refuge on page 80 and page 79 covers the northern part of the Spring Mountains Recreation Area (Cold Creek and the Wheeler Pass Area).
I traveled the Mormon Wells Road from the Corn Creek Station to about three miles beyond Peek-A-Boo Canyon in two wheel drive without any problems.
To be safe, make sure your vehicle and tires are in good condition, including the spare. Carry extra water and antifreeze. A Ranger at Desert told me that there is a tow service in Vegas that will travel into the Refuge for a cool $215.00 per hour! That's from the time they leave Vegas until they return, ouch!
Red Rock Canyon is a location that should not be missed! It is located just to the west of Las Vegas and can be easily reached by taking highway 215 (probably the best way) off of US 15 south of the city to highway 158 to the left, then follow the signs to Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area.
When you arrive, stop at the Red Rock Visitor Center before taking the Scenic Drive. The Center operates from 8am to 5pm from March - October and from 8am to 4:30pm the rest of the year. The Visitor Center is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.
The Scenic Drive, open from 7am to dusk daily, is a 13 mile one-way loop through some of the most spectacular parts of the conservation area. There are many signed pull-outs along the route that provide great photo opportunities and access to many trails. Restrooms and emergency phones are located at most of the pull-outs.
Wild Burros may also be seen throughout the conservation area. They are very used to humans but I would suggest observing them from a distance. They are wild animals and can be very unpredictable (kicking and biting is not unusual).
If you want to venture farther from Las Vegas, Valley of Fire State Park is located approximately 55 miles, total driving distance, northeast on I-15 and Valley of Fire road. There is an small entrance fee per car to enter the park. Be sure to stop at the Entrance Station and pick up a Free Guide!Valley of Fire offers camping, hiking and picknicing along with many great photo opportunities.
The best times for photography in Valley of Fire are the hours before and after sunrise and before and just after sunset, when your shadow is longer than you are. Remember to have lots of memory cards and spare batteries with you!
Inhabitants of the park include Coyote, Kit Fox, Spotted Skunk, Black Tailed Jackrabbit, Antelope Ground Squirrel and the Desert Tortoise. If you are lucky enough to come across this rare species, please leave this likeable and harmless creature live it's life in peace.
We have never come across any Wild Horses in the Park but have been told by locals that a band had been spotted between the Park and Lake Mead.
You really only have two answers to this question! You either camp in the Wheeler Pass HMA (Spring Mountains Recreation Area), the Desert National Wildlife Refuge or really rough it in Las Vegas. When we camp we usually come in to Vegas every four or five days for some food I didn't have to cook, a soft bed, a little recreation and a shower. You know horses have very good noses!
The hotel we usually stay at while in Las Vegas is the Luxor. Even though the Luxor has an Egyptian Theme, they have some very interesting restaurants. If you like Mexican food give T&T (Tacos & Tequila) a try. It's located on the Atrium Level. Reservations are recommended Friday and Saturday nights!
The More Buffet was voted The Best Buffet in Las Vegas! Located in the lower level MORE features a massive 30-foot salad bar, homemade pizza station, two delectable carving stations, two tasty omelet stations, and specialties from around the world. The scrumptious dessert station features French pastries and sugar-free desserts!
If you have a taste for burgers the Burger Bar located at Mandalay Place via the sky bridge, is the place for you! Build your own burger—starting with the meat! Choose from Kobe or Black Angus beef, Colorado lamb, or a vegetarian alternative. Then load it up with your favorite toppings like smoked salmon or grilled lobster. You can even have a dessert burger made of chocolate, mint or passion fruit!
Another great place to stay is the Orleans. The Orleans is a little off of the Strip, but take it from me, you won't miss it! They have nice rooms, all of the gaming you could want, a bowling alley, movie theater, shopping and some very good restaurants!
Canal Street is for steak lovers! Unique entrees and steaks or chops all await you nightly. Voted "Best Hotel Steak House In Las Vegas" in 2008 Las Vegas Review-Journal Dining Editors' Poll.
For more casual dining there's the The French Market Buffet, the Orlean's all-new action buffet featuring Italian, Mongolian, Barbecue, American, Seafood, Mexican and Chinese cooking. Or how about Fuddrucker's World-famous hamburgers. And for you chocolate lovers, The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory will more than satisfy the longings of chocolate enthusiasts!
The Wheeler Pass HMA, Spring Mountains Recreation Area, Desert National Wildlife Refuge and of course, Las Vegas are great places to visit. But all three can be dangerous, especially Las Vegas! I once heard a story about a man who arrived in Las Vegas driving a $65,000.00 Cadillac CTS and in two days left in a $550,000.00 Greyhound Bus!
When visiting the Wheeler Pass Area and the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, don't forget to check the Local Weather Conditions for the Cold Creek, Spring Mountains and Red Rock Areas before starting your adventure.
Make sure your vehicle has a full tank of fuel! Carry lot's of extra food, water(at least 1 gallon per person per day, more if possible) and clothing. Weather conditions in this area can change very quickly! Carry a cell or satellite phone (we always carry a satellite phone in our van). Sun screen, a wide-brim hat and sun glasses are a must!
Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return. At the Wildlife Refuge sign the register at Corn Creek Station before venturing into the back country.
Traveling the back roads can be a real adventure, but remember you are on your own! The dirt roads in the Wheeler Pass HMA and the Spring Mountains Recreation Area are for the most part not maintained, but a regular passenger car would probably have no trouble reaching the Willow Creek Campground in good weather. We made it a couple years ago in Stacy's Acura RDX.
If you are not comfortable with the situation or the abilities your vehicle, don't proceed! Safety is most important and it could be a long walk back to town!
Photographic opportunities present themselves around every corner and over every hill in the Wheeler Pass Area. Keep your camera ready and don't forget to pack lots of memory cards and extra batteries!
We will be adding new information and images to this page as they become available, so please check back when you can. If you do visit Desert, the Wheeler Pass Area, Red Rock Canyon or Valley of Fire, we would love to hear about your experiences!