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Hit the road, Desert Companion readers! And while you're at it, have a look around. This issue invites you to not only escape to the outdoors, but also to think about the environmental issues affecting our pursuits and our world.

Outdoor Nevada: Take a Drive!

Two people walk among Avi Kwa Ame's Joshua Trees
Vegas PBS

Avi Kwa Ame National Monument

“It’s inherent to our identity,” says Ashley Hemmers, of the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, speaking to “Outdoor Nevada” host Connor Fields about Avi Kwa Ame, or Spirit Mountain, as it’s known in English. “It’s a part of our history, but it’s also part of who we are right now. So, it’s a living history.”

The 505,000 acres that President Joe Biden designated as Avi Kwa Ame National Monument in March 2023 are just an hour from Las Vegas, yet they offer a unique chance to experience solitude and connect with nature. The Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness, in the western part of the monument, is a biodiversity hotspot, where species of the Mojave, Sonoran, and Great Basin Deserts grow together unlike anywhere else.

A great way for Southern Nevadans to visit the monument and appreciate its beauty up close is by taking a drive on Christmas Tree Pass Road. Two optional stops, at the Grapevine Canyon and Spirit Mountain trailheads, offer the chance to get out and take a short walk to better enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells. But remember what Hemmers told Fields: “If we’re going to have something this nice for all of us to enjoy, then we have to have this commitment to each other to respect it.”

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Route Name: Christmas Tree Pass Road

Getting There: From Las Vegas, go south on U.S. 93/95 toward Boulder City. About a mile after Railroad Pass, turn south (right) on U.S. 95 and continue about 55 miles to Palm Gardens. Just past Palm Gardens, turn east (left) on State Route 163. Go 13 miles and then turn north (left) onto Christmas Tree Pass Road. The Grapevine Canyon trail will be about two miles up on the left.

To continue the drive, get back on Christmas Tree Pass Road, which, after another three miles or so, will bend west toward Avi Kwa Ame. Ahead on your right, the sawtooth peaks of “Spirit Mountain” come into view. Approximately three and a half miles farther, the Spirit Mountain trailhead will be on your right. (Lest you be tempted to hike this trail, know that it is very hard — 2,200 feet of elevation gain in fewer than 2 miles of at-times unclear path — and not advisable to do without an experienced guide.) The drive continues between seven and eight miles through Christmas Tree Pass back to U.S. 95. There, you’ll turn right to head back to Las Vegas.

Distance: 35 miles (from and back to U.S. 95)

Equipment Needed: A high-clearance vehicle is preferable, but not required. Just take rutted sections slowly. As always when traveling in the desert, make sure you have plenty of water and an emergency communication device, and tell someone where you’re going before you leave.

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Pro Tip: Make a leisurely day of it by packing a picnic and tailgating at one of the two trailhead parking areas.

Desert Companion welcomed Heidi Kyser as staff writer in January 2014. In 2018, she was promoted to senior writer and producer, working for both DC and KNPR's State of Nevada. She produced KNPR’s first podcast, the Edward R. Murrow Regional Award-winning Native Nevada, in 2020. The following year, she returned her focus full-time to Desert Companion, becoming Deputy Editor, which meant she was next in line to take over when longtime editor Andrew Kiraly left in July 2022. In 2024, Interim CEO Favian Perez promoted Heidi to managing editor, charged with integrating the Desert Companion and State of Nevada newsroom operations.