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Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area
Southern Nevada Wilderness Areas
Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area
Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area
Joshua trees - and lots of them - in the northwestern portion of the wilderness area (view E)

Overview

Wee Thump Joshua Tree is a relatively small (6,050 acres) wilderness area established to protect a forest of dense, old-growth Joshua trees. The wilderness area is relatively flat, sloping gently from west to east at elevations ranging from about 5,000 to 4,100 feet. The wilderness area is surrounded by dirt and paved roads that give access to the far reaches of the forest and some amazing views out over the wilderness area towards Spirit Mountain to the southeast. Gilded Flickers (flickers with yellow wing lining) can be found here. There are no real trails, but the BLM "Spirit of Wilderness" Trail provides access from the pavement, and routes lead to the "Heart of the Wee Thump" or along the El Dorado Wagon Trail, and this is a great place to spend a day with the family wandering about, listening to the woodpeckers and the wind in the trees, and enjoying a picnic lunch in the desert. The historic corral near the southeast corner of the wilderness area is a good place to stop and look for spring wildflowers.

Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area
View across wilderness towards Spirit Mountain

If you hike in wilderness areas, help protect them by learning about and reporting noxious and invasive weeds.

Link to map of the wilderness area.

Location

The Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area is located about 50 air-miles south of Las Vegas between Searchlight, Nevada, and Nipton, California, on the north side of Nevada Highway 164. The southeast corner of the wilderness area (Table 1, Site 1299) is on Highway 164, 8.2 miles west of Searchlight, and the southwest corner (Site 1305) is on the highway 13.2 miles west of Searchlight. In California, Highway 164 becomes Nipton Road.

Wee Thump Wilderness Area, southeast entrance
Southeast corner of the wilderness area just off Highway 164 (view N; sign is missing).

Boundaries

The area is basically triangular-shaped with the tip of the triangle cut off. The southern boundary, the base of the triangle, is 5.0-miles long and runs parallel to Highway 164. The western boundary is 5.0-miles long and mostly follows a dirt powerline road (Wee Thump West Road). The eastern boundary is 4.5-miles long and runs along a dirt road (Wee Thump East Road). The northern boundary, the short side, is 1.1-miles long and follows a dirt road (Wee Thump North Road).

Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area
Typical Wee Thump West Road (view NE)

Access

The easiest access to the wilderness area is from Highway 164, the "Joshua Tree Highway."

From Highway 95 at Searchlight, drive west on Highway 164 for 8.2 miles to Wee Thump East Road, a dirt road on the north side of the highway marked only by a stop sign (Site 1299). This is the southeast corner of the wilderness area. A broken windmill stands about 0.2 miles up the dirt road. The turnoff is 1.2 miles west of Walking Box Ranch Road (which has a regular street sign). After making the turn onto Wee Thump East Road, a big Wilderness Area boundary sign might become visible (vandals tore down the sign). Wee Thump East Road provides access to the east side of the wilderness area.

Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area
Bad spot on Wee Thump East Road (view SE)

Continuing west on Highway 164, almost everything north (right) of the highway for the next 5.0 miles is wilderness. On a curve 5.0 miles west of Wee Thump East Road, the Wee Thump West Road (Site 1305) more-or-less marks the southwest corner of the wilderness area.

From Interstate 15 in California, drive east on Nipton Road for 18.2 miles to Wee Thump West Road (Site 1305) on the north (left) side of the highway (marked with a stop sign). The turnoff is about 5.3 miles east of the California-Nevada state line (third stop sign on the north side of the road in Nevada). The intersection with Wee Thump West Road more-or-less marks the southwest corner of the wilderness area.

Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area
Joshua Tree in SE portion of the area (view W)

CAUTION: At the southwest corner of the wilderness area, Wee Thump West Road passes through an old mining district (just north and west of a cattle guard; Site 1342). At least some of the shafts and adits are marked, but remember that while mines are inherently interesting, they are never safe to enter. One vertical shaft near the road, now closed, could have easily swallowed a car.

Roads surround the wilderness area. The complete loop is about 15.6 miles, about 5.0 miles of which are the paved highway. For the remainder of the loop, a high-clearance vehicle is necessary, except that a carefully driven sedan should make it for about 2.4 miles up Wee Thump East Road (better to stop at a road intersection 1.6 miles out; Site 0946).

Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area
Stately Joshua Tree (view NW)

Details (including GPS waypoints) of the roads surrounding the wilderness area are presented on the roadway webpages: Wee Thump East Road, Wee Thump West Road, and Wee Thump North Road. In particular, a turn on the Wee Thump West Road is a bit confusing when driving south.

Terrain

The area is a gently sloping desert bajada with elevations that range from about 4,100 to 5,000 feet. The higher western section is on the hilly lower slopes of the South McCullough Mountains, but the rest gently slopes to the southeast. Several shallow washes cut west-to-east across the wilderness area, converging into a sandy wash at the base of the Highland Range (just outside the eastern boundary) and flowing south.

Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area
Joshua Tree-Blackbrush habitat (view W)

Habitat Type

The entire wilderness area is located in the Mojave Desert Scrub (Upper Sonoran) life zone, but there are two distinct habitat types.

In the higher-elevation western and northern areas, the vegetation community is a Blackbrush-Joshua Tree forest. Many other plant species are present, especially in washes, but blackbrush and Joshua trees dominate the landscape with a scattering of Mojave yucca, banana yucca, and buckhorn cholla.

In the lower-elevation areas (southeastern areas), the vegetation is more typical Mojave Desert Scrub with lots of Joshua trees. Here, creosote bush, white bursage, Mojave yucca, bunchgrasses, cholla (including matted cholla), pricklypear cactus, and a variety of other low-growing desert shrubs dominate the landscape. The invasive red brome grass is not too much of a problem here.

Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area
Grassy area on the east side of the area (view W)

Wildlife

This is the only place in Nevada where Gilded Flickers are known to occur. Other birds seen include Northern Flicker, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Black-throated Sparrow, Red-tailed Hawk, Crissal Thrasher, Golden Eagle, Loggerhead Shrike, Common Raven, Cactus Wren, American Kestrel, Turkey Vulture, Bewick's Wren, Bushtits, and even ducks and shorebirds use temporary water in the area.

Reptiles include desert tortoises, yellow-backed spiny lizard, side-blotched lizard, leopard lizard, zebra-tailed lizard, and Mojave Patch-nosed Snake.

Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area

Mammals include bighorn sheep, coyote, black-tailed jack rabbit, desert cottontail, valley pocket gophers, kangaroo rats, pocket mice, white-tailed antelope squirrels, badger, bobcat, cattle, kit fox, mule deer, and desert woodrats.

Invertebrates include common green darner dragonfly, variegated meadowhawk dragonfly, familiar bluet damselfly, and tadpole shrimp (Triops spp.).

Archaeology

This area probably was traversed by native peoples traveling between the South McCullough Mountains and the Colorado River area, but I have no specific information about native use in the wilderness area. Miners and ranchers used the area, leaving tracks of the El Dorado Wagon Road and Wee Thump Corral as evidence of their passage.

Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area

Geology

This area lies on the bajada below the South McCullough Mountains. The bajada, composed entirely of outwash materials from the McCullough Mountains, dominates the local geology. Alluvial soils are deep and well sorted, with few rocks of any size in the wilderness area. The soils appear to be coarse-grained decomposed granite, but they are the decomposition products of metamorphic rocks, which is unusual for Nevada.

Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area
Heart of the Wee Thump (view NW)

Recreation

Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area provides sublime landscapes with nothing but the wind in the Joshua trees and the calls of Gilded Flickers to break the silence. This is a place to wander about, ride horses, hike, hunt, and photograph the spring wildflowers.

The only designated trail is the El Dorado Wagon Trail that follows the trace of an historic road dating from early mining days. Other hikes in the wilderness include the BLM Spirit of Wilderness Loop, the Heart of the Wee Thump Loop (hike to the geographic center of the wilderness area), several major washes that provide easy walking, and anywhere else off-trail that your fancy takes you.

Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area Leave No Trace campsite
Low-impact (Leave No Trace) campsite near the Heart of the Wee Thump

Threats

The greatest human threat to the wilderness area appears to be off-road driving. While the boundary is well signed, fair numbers of off-roaders use the area. Most say outside the wilderness area to the east, but some drive up the washes and over vegetation into the wilderness area. Campers gather dead Joshua trees for firewood, reducing habitat for desert woodrats and desert night lizards.

Visitors to the Wilderness Area should be sure to practice low-impact (Leave No Trace) camping and hiking techniques.

Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area
Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area
Heart of the Wee Thump (view W)
Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area
Heart of the Wee Thump (view N)
Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area
Heart of the Wee Thump (view E)
Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area
Heart of the Wee Thump (view S)
Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area
Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area
Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area
Red-tailed Hawk in flight over Joshua Trees
Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area
Wee Thump from Hwy 164 (view E)

Table 1. Highway Coordinates Based on GPS Data (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Highway GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Site Location UTM Easting UTM Northing Latitude (N) Longitude (W) Elevation (ft) Verified
0946 Wee Thump East Rd at Piute Valley Rd 675896 3933190 35.52853 115.06002 4,242 Yes
1299 Hwy 164 at Wee Thump East Rd 676352 3930785 35.50678 115.05551 3,960 GPS
1300 Wee Thump East Rd at Wee Thump North Rd 674061 3937257 35.56551 115.07937 4,375 GPS
1301 Wee Thump West Rd at Wee Thump North Rd 672453 3937265 35.56586 115.09710 4,560 GPS
1305 Hwy 164 at Wee Thump West Rd 668839 3930740 35.50768 115.13832 4,795 GPS
1306 Wee Thump West Rd at Powerline Rd 668681 3932106 35.52002 115.13978 5,013 GPS
1342 Wee Thump West Rd at Cattle Guard 668844 3931418 35.51379 115.13812 4,880 GPS

Note: All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
© 2014 Jim Boone; Last updated 121028

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