The perfect day trip from Reno, the fascinating Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge is smack dab in the center of the Lahontan Valley, just outside the north-central community of Fallon. Very well known by wildlife enthusiasts and birders, this area is particularly important for migratory birds due to its ranking as an area of International Importance by the Western hemispheric Shorebird Reserve. Classified with such an eminent title, hundreds of thousands of shorebirds use Stillwater as an integral stopping place along their migratory routes.
Originally designated a National Wildlife Refuge in 1949, the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge encompasses an enormous 79,570 acres of dynamic landscapes which include freshwater and brackish marshes, river corridors, alkali playas, desert shrublands, sand dunes, and an island at a desert lake. Altogether, it’s no challenge to recongnize that the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge is a bonafide thriving oasis in the otherwise surrounding high desert landscape.
A LITTLE HISTORY
What originally began as a colossal lake covering an unfathomable amount of terrain 12,000 years ago, Lake Lahontan filled a multitude of valleys in western Nevada. While warming temperatures and glacial retreat attributed to the end of the Ice Age, a vast majority of Lake Lahontan evaporated as well, leaving a tiny sliver we can visit today: Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge. When visiting the Refuge today, be sure to observe the surrounding mountainsides for evidence of Lake Lahontan’s former shoreline.
Later, Paiute American Indians heavily occupied the valley—also known as the Carson Sink—dependent on the thriving ecosystem the marshy environment and abundant resources the land provided. Here, they could utilize the fish, waterfowl, and vegetation Stillwater so bountifully supplied. People in great numbers continued to thrive here until a record series of droughts swept the region nearly 1,000 years ago, forcing them to move on to more prosperous territories. Later in the 1800s, many early explorers re-discovered the area, eventually creating farmsteads along this uncharacteristic moist landscape in the Nevada desert.
Although drought has continued to be part of the Fallon area story throughout the past century, action was taken in the 1940s to prevent complete loss of the Stillwater marshes with the implementation of an irrigation project. Water redirected from the Carson River flows to the refuge in rationed quantities in order to preserve this tremendous wildlife spectacle and important stop along a migratory path.
VISITING STILLWATER NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE TODAY
When visiting the Stillwater National Wildlife Conservation Area today, partake in the abundant recreational activities that await. In addition to the quarter million waterfowl attracted to Stillwater each year, visitors can revel in a whopping 400 species of wildlife that call Stillwater home, including beaver, mountain lion, bobcat, mule deer, coyote, bats, mink, and kit fox. Additionally, a spectacular variety of reptiles live at Stillwater, including the Great Basin Spadefood Toad, Pacific Tree Frog, Northwestern Pond Turtle and a variety of lizards and snakes. The list goes on with dozens upon dozens of fish and insects found in the area, too.
Aside from a first rate opportunity to observe and learn about wildlife, visitors can also partake in boundless recreation at Stillwater, including several walking trails, photography, non-motorized boating, camping and hunting in designated areas. Take a relaxing drive to Stillwater with an afternoon picnic, or map out an overnight camping excursion to this dynamic and historically rich area. Plan an unforgettable wildlife viewing experience with a daytrip to Stillwater, where you can take advantage of free guided refuge tours that begin at the Stillwater Visitors Center in Fallon. But, guided hike or not, make sure to take advantage of this spectacular National Wildlife Refuge that’s been part of Nevada’s Great Basin for centuries.
GETTING THERE & ADMISSION
From Fallon, Nevada, follow U.S. Highway 50 east approximately 5 miles. Turn left onto Stillwater Road and follow the “Watchable Wildlife” signs to the refuge entrance (approximately 15 miles). Before heading into the Refuge, swing through the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters. Located directly off Highway 50 and Harrigan Road inside the medical complex located at 1020 New River Parkway, Suite #305, visitors can get a lay of the land, pick up maps and other informational brochures about the area, get up to date access information, and more. Admission to Stillwater is free! For more information about planning your trip to Stillwater, dial (775) 423-5128.