By David Maxwell
He sat in a folding camp chair by the picnic table at one of the campsites at Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge and tossed the ball his dog wanted to play fetch with, over and over.
A retired meat cutter with Kroger Markets in Michigan and his wife, names withheld, were camping in their RV for a few days at Upper Pahranagat Lake.
He said the main reason the couple, now full-time RVers, stops at Pahranagat is “because it’s free.”
A person or a party of up to eight can stay at no charge for 14 days.
This particular couple, and others, are only a few of the many who will visit the campsites at the refuge from now until the onset of winter.
Asked for other reasons they visit Pahranagat Lake, the man said they have been coming to the lake campsites occasionally, “for the past 10 years or so. The first time we came to the valley, we stopped at the rest stop a few miles further south of here [milepost 28-29] not knowing this place was here.”
He said they travel mostly around the northwest states, but touch also into the southwest, like Arizona and Nevada, from time to time. “We like it here in the spring, because if we go up further north in the higher elevations, the nighttime weather is still cold.
“It’s relaxing here. We like it,” he said, “although not that it is so close to the road.”
He said the campground’s proximity to Alamo, where groceries and fuel can be obtained, is not a real need in his case. “I am well stocked. I can last this way for a couple of months without needing to resupply.”
Another couple from Arizona, tent camping, said they had traveled along US 93 a few times and noticed the campground, “but this week is our first time camping here and first time we have camped in Nevada. What is enjoyable is that it’s quiet, except for the highway. The scenery looking across the lake is nice.”
A third person, living full-time in his specially outfitted pickup, said he comes to the refuge campsites twice a year, sometimes more. “I’ve been coming here regularly for seven years, and it’s free.”
Camping on the road year-round, the man said he travels between Mt. Lassen and Yuma, Arizona. “I’m at Lassen for the summer and Yuma in the winter and travel back and forth.”
His specially outfitted pickup has a solar-powered generator and refrigerator.
“I’ve met nothing but kind, ordinary people here at the campsites along the lake.”
Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, built in 1963 and surrounded by the Mojave Desert, covers over 5,000 acres, plus the valley, all of which is like an oasis in the desert, providing isolated wetlands and vibrant meadows teeming with life that offer a necessary respite for migratory birds at rest, including, at times, bald eagles and white swans.
Nearly 640 acres of open water is surrounded by 700 acres of wet meadows and 350 acres of flat alkali, providing food and shelter for wildlife as well as enjoyment for those who take time to camp alongside the Upper Lake.