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Pahranagat is bird lovers’ paradise

Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, located just south of the ranching community of Alamo, encompasses 5,382 acres of lakes, marshes, meadows, riparian areas and open desert. The three largest bodies of water in the refuge are Upper Lake, Middle Pond and Lower Lake fed by thermal springs.

Abundant water makes Pahranagat a busy resting and dining spot on migratory birds’ journeys north and south. It’s part of the Pacific Flyway, stretching from Alaska and Canada to Mexico. Furthermore, there are many species living there year-round.

All of that makes Pahranagat an excellent place for bird watching, where more than 300 species have been recorded. And early November is an especially good time to do it; the migration is well underway, yet temperatures are just about ideal for human visitors, neither too chilly nor too warm. It is located at an elevation of about 3,350 feet so expect temperatures about 5-10 degrees cooler than Las Vegas.

One special avian visitor that you might see in November is the greater sandhill crane. These magnificent birds can be 5 feet tall and weigh as much as 14 pounds. They stop here this time of year for one or two days on their journey south, and then again in February and March when they return north. They are a silvery gray color with a distinctive patch of red on their crowns above a white cheek. They also have a unique curved feather pattern on their rumps.

In fall you also might see great blue herons, snowy egrets, Canada geese and a variety of other waterfowl. Winter also brings tundra swans, golden eagles and bald eagles as well as red-tailed hawks, northern harriers and Cooper’s hawks. To get a glimpse of a bald eagle look at the tall trees that line the lake. They sit and swoop down to catch a fish once in a while. Hawks are usually looking for small game and cruise the open meadows in search of prey.

Other wildlife in the refuge include beaver, coyote, kit fox, mule deer and mountain lion. I have seen beaver lodges in Upper Marsh for years.

Pahranagat’s waters are a good place to use shallow-water, shore-hugging craft such as canoes and kayaks and other craft powered by human arms or electric motors. Fishing is permitted all year, although the peak season has passed, and a part of the refuge called North Marsh is closed to fishing and boating during waterfowl season.

The refuge is also home to many historical sites. Once home to the Paiute people there are numerous rock art sites here with pictographs and petroglyphs. Pahranagat in Paiute means “valley of shining water.” There is also a historical building built by pioneers, the Walden House, thought to be constructed around 1864.

Pahranagat is close enough to the Las Vegas metropolitan area to make a good day trip, but staying a night or two permits being there for nature’s best shows, at dawn and dusk. Camping is allowed on the eastern shoreline of Upper Pahranagat Lake.

Also, the nearby farming community of Alamo offers surprising luxury for such a small settlement at The Cowboy’s Dream, a unique, purpose-built bed-and-breakfast where every room is individually designed and furnished in an authentic Western motif. The website, www.cowboysdream.com, advises that reservations are required at least three days in advance if you expect dinner also. Call 775-725-3500 for further information.

Alamo also boasts at least two more conventional accommodations, the Alamo Inn, www.alamoinn-nevada.com, 775-725-3371, and the Windmill Ridge cabins, www.wind-mill-ridge.com, 775-725-3686.

Many of Deborah Wall’s columns have been compiled in the book “Base Camp Las Vegas, Hiking the Southwestern States.” She is also the author of “Great Hikes, a Cerca Country Guide” and a co-author of the newly released book “Access For All, Seeing the Southwest With Limited Mobility.” Wall can be reached at Deborabus@aol.com.

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