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five bighorn on a red mountain

Bighorn Sheep: Herding Up 4 View Points

September 4 is National Wildlife Day, an opportunity to pause and reflect on conservation efforts to improve our natural world. In honor of this day, we thought we’d take a few moments to delve into the world of Nevada’s bighorn sheep.

Bighorn Sheep: Nevada’s State Animal

In 1973 the Desert Bighorn Sheep was named Nevada’s official state animal, and for good reason. According to Doug Nielsen, a spokesman for the Nevada Division of Wildlife “The bighorn is representative of everything about Nevada. It’s rugged. It lives in a rugged landscape. It makes its life in a harsh environment. It has had its ups and downs like the human residents of Nevada, but it continues to fight and hang in there.” 

Nevada’s rugged landscapes are not only a testament to the raw beauty of the American West, but also home to a remarkable array of wildlife adapted to thrive in the harsh desert environment. Among these inhabitants, the bighorn sheep stand out as iconic symbols of resilience, adaptation, and survival.

Bighorn Sheep have lived in Nevada long before modern day settlers came here. Many petroglyphs depict the horned animal living alongside the natives of this region who saw them as a source of food, pelts, and tools. Between the environment, and threat of hunting, bighorn sheep had to evolve to survive in the deserts of Southern Nevada. This includes impeccable balance and cloven hooves that allow them to grip uneven terrain, aiding them in scaling steep mountain ranges – and they’re really good at it! Desert Bighorn sheep are capable of establishing a firm grip on a 2-inch ledge, leaping across ledges separated by 20 feet, and sprinting up mountainsides covered in gravel at speeds of 15 miles per hour!

If you want to catch a glimpse of these hearty animals in the wild, here’s four fun-filled adventures to do so: 

 

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

📍Approximate Distance From The Strip: 34 Mins. 24 Mi.

Animals need access to copious amounts of water to be able to survive in the desert heat, so it’s no surprise that the best place to spot bighorn sheep in Southern Nevada is next to our largest watering hole – Lake Mead. Your best bet is to station yourself near the water early in the morning before sunrise as that is when they are more likely to be at the shore seeking a drink before retreating back to the shade and safety of the mountain shortly after dawn. But inevitably they will need to rehydrate during the day – so if you’re not a morning person, you’re not out of luck. A leisurely day drive down Northshore Road, which runs between the mountains and the lake, will not only offer incredible views of Lake Mead and the surrounding mountains, but the area’s wildlife as well. 

Bighorn Lake Mead

Hemenway Valley Park

📍Approximate Distance From The Strip: 30 Mins. 28.6 Mi.

Located in Boulder City just outside of Lake Mead National Recreation Area is this 10-acre park that includes playground equipment, gazebos, basketball courts, horseshoe pits, two lighted tennis courts, and 2 lighted tennis courts. But its most popular attraction is not man-made, but the herds of Desert Bighorn Sheep that come down from the mountains for water and graze. They can be spotted like clockwork every day from April – October from the mid-morning to late afternoon. So if you’re planning to tour the Hoover Dam, take a stroll through Boulder City, or spend a day on the lake – Hemenway Valley Park is a great family-friendly pit-stop for recreation and to get a closer look at these majestic animals.

A bighorn sheep sits in the Hemingway Park grass

Gold Strike Canyon Hot Springs Trail

📍Approximate Distance From The Strip: 38 Mins. 38.7 Mi.

For the more adventurous traveler, travel just outside of Boulder City and make the 600-foot descent into the spectacular scenic Gold Strike Canyon. The trail is a two miles one-way out and back trail that is filled with third-class scrambling and 20-ft rope climbs that are definitely not for beginners. But the reward is a magnificent hot spring at the end, and catching a glimpse of lots of wildlife, including desert bighorn sheep, along the way. Your best time of year to make this trek is October – April when the temperatures are cooler. Alternatively, you can also access the hot springs by kayaking through Black Canyon on the Colorado River year-round. Evolution Expeditions has several kayaking adventures suitable for first-timers and seasoned-paddlers alike.

Bighorn sheep email walking across desert brush on an Evolution Expedtions tour

Valley of Fire

📍Approximate Distance From The Strip: 51 Min. 49.6 Mi.

Explore the rich history of one of Nevada’s oldest, and largest, state parks. It is world-famous for its fiery sandstone formations nestled in between gray and tan limestone that are filled with petrified trees, ancient petroglyphs, and, of course, plenty of wildlife. The park features 34 hikes and 73 campgrounds to spend some quality time in nature and catch a glimpse of the desert bighorn sheep. You can also take a 20-30 minute drive through the entire park and take in the scenery from the comfort of your vehicle, or tour bus. Either way, make sure to stop by the Visitor’s Center to get tips on when and where to spot wildlife and to tour exhibits on the geology, ecology, prehistory and history of the park and nearby region.

Valley of Fire Bighorn

There’s plenty more to enjoy in southern Nevada. Ready to plan your trip? We’ve got plenty of resources for you!

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