Spring Wildflowers! Alamo Road to Joe May Road ~ Desert National Wildlife Range
Springtime is the desert wildflower season and there is only a short window of opportunity to to see the colorful blooms in most years, but after a wet rainy winter the bloom season can last till the extreme heat of summer sets in. There are many places to go see desert wildflower blooms, but only a few are located along the paved roads. Those who drive a high ground clearance vehicle or 4×4 will have a real advantage when venturing into the great outdoors to see the springtime flower blooms in person.
From March through May desert wildflower blooms can be seen nearly everywhere in southern Nevada, but the amount of rainfall or drought during the winter can effect the duration and intensity of the wildflower bloom season. After a dry winter, the wildflower bloom is minimal and the flowering cycle ends quickly as the outdoor temperatures rise. Cactus will continue to bloom till some time in June during a dry year, but there will be far fewer cactus flowers to see. After a wet rainy winter season, the desert wildflower season can start even before the first day of spring arrives and it will keep going strong till the outdoor temperatures reach the extreme heat level of summer.
As the temperatures rise, the less hearty plants revert to their hot summer survival mode and the flowering cycle will taper off, while the heartier cactus wildflower blooms can continue to flourish well into July. A indicator of how prolific the cactus wild flower blooms will be is to look at how plump the cactus is. For example, after a very dry winter a paddle cactus can be as thin as cardboard, while after a wet winter the same paddle cactus can be thicker than a hearty mountain man pancake. The thicker and plumper the cactus, the more water the cactus stored during winter and the more energy the cactus will have to produce blooms when the daylight hours start to get longer. After a wet winter, it is not uncommon to see dozens of colorful blooms on one single small cactus!
The best places to view a vast sea of colorful wildflowers in the Desert Southwest tends to be the mid elevation mountain slopes or meadows where Yucca and Joshua Trees grow. The canyon floors and mountain dry wash ravines always yield spectacular spring wildflower blooms after a wet winter too. Areas where mountain snow melt seepage occurs in the lower elevations are also a good choice. As one can imagine, these kinds of wildflower bloom viewing areas can only be reached by doing a long drive down a dirt road, so an ordinary low ground clearance passenger car will not be able to do the off-highway trip in most cases.
Those who venture into the Federal managed land territories will usually find well maintained dirt roads that are smooth enough for most passenger cars during dry weather, but the dirt road conditions can deteriorate quickly if rain is in the forecast. Checking on dirt road conditions is not easy to do, but often the local Jeep and ATV clubs have up to date website pages that report on whether a dirt road is smooth, rough or impassible. Basically, the rule of thumb for traveling on desert dirt roads is to expect the worst and select a capable vehicle. For this reason, it is best to rent a pickup truck, SUV, ATV or Jeep if you do not already own one, when planning a spring season desert wildflower viewing trip down a long dirt road.
One of the best places to see desert wildflower blooms is at the Desert National Wildlife Range. The Corn Creek access road to this vast wildlife refuge is located on U.S. Highway 95 about 20 minutes north of Las Vegas, just past the Snow Mountain Paiute Territory. There are two very long main dirt roads that run through the vast Desert National Wildlife Range wilderness area. Mormon Well Road runs 75 miles through the mountains north to Highway 93 and this road can be very rough. Alamo Road runs along the northwestern border of the Desert National Wildlife Range all the way to the Pahranagat Wildlife Refuge in Alamo, which is about 90 miles. Either of the two main roads are good for spring wildflower viewing, but since Alamo Road is the smoother of the two, this road definitely gets the nod.
Alamo Road is a fairly well maintained dirt road that is smooth enough for an average SUV to traverse. Like all desert dirt roads, conditions can change without warning. A rainstorm or flash flood can make the road impassible. It is always best to check the board at the visitors center or ask the rangers whether there are any road closures before starting off on a long distance off-road venture, like driving the entire length of Alamo Road.
All along Alamo Road there are plenty of wildflower blooms to see and the wide range of bright colors are amazing! Purple Sage, yellow Creosote flowers, burgundy color Yucca spear flowers, fruiting green Joshua Tree clusters, Orange Mallow Globe and dozens of different desert ground cover flowers can be seen when touring Alamo Road going north, even when only cruising a short distance to Joe May Road which is only about three miles from the visitors center.
The cactus flowers that can be seen in this area are definitely the star of the show and there are a wide variety to see! Several paddle cactus and Beaver Tail Cactus species thrive in this area and each seems to have its own shade of pink flower. The intense hot pink blooms of Hedge Hog Cactus and the delicate green flowers of the Cholla Cactus can be marveled over. If one is really lucky, they will see the red and yellow Barrel Cactus blooms too.
On the day I took a drive on Alamo Road the weather was nice and the summer heat had not yet set in. The year 2013 was one of the best desert wildflower blooming seasons in decades, because the previous winter season was one of the wettest on record. The desert was literally painted with bright colors that year and the wet winter of 2019 has yielded the same result.
The short three mile section of Alamo Road between the visitors center and the intersection Joe May Road is a great little spring wildflower blooming area. I have not explored Joe May Road as of yet, but I did tour the Hidden Forest Road that is located further on down the long Alamo Road. The photos of the Hidden Forest journey will be publish in an upcoming article.
An important item to keep in mind is that Alamo Road borders upon the Nellis Air Force Base Bombing Range and the old Nevada Atomic Bomb Test Site is also next door. The no trespassing signs and high security are the only barriers in this area, so in order to keep from getting bombed or arrested, it is best to heed the warnings. This entire region was saturated with nuclear bomb radioactive fallout, so rock collecting may not be a good idea. On windy days, it is advisable to wear a dust mask in this region for the same reason. Other than the bombing range and some residual radioactive fallout, the Alamo Road section of the Desert National Wildlife Range is as picturesque as can be.
On a sad note, the Air Force is currently trying to seize the entire Alamo Road section of the Desert National Wildlife Range to expand their own bombing range. The expansion will threaten the endangered Mountain Goat habitat and the general public will lose some of the most beautiful wildflower viewing areas on earth. There are environmental preservation organizations and petitions to stop the Nellis Air Force Base Bombing Range expansion, so feel free to look into this controversial matter and show support for saving the Alamo Road section of the Desert National Wildlife Range from being blown to smithereens.
When visiting the Desert National Wildlife Range, be sure to bring a good camera, because the photos of the bright color cactus flowers will be a soothing slideshow to marvel over for years to come! This is a beautiful desert landscape for viewing spring wildflower blooms and there are many lesser know destinations in this wilderness area where few others go. Doing the 3 mile tour on Alamo Road to Joe May Road is a good place to start a Desert National Wildlife Range wildflower viewing venture, because so many cactus wildflowers can be seen in this small area!