Now that the days are cooler, it’s time to get out and enjoy some of the nature that’s been too hot to handle for the last few months. That’s what I was thinking on Sunday, and my first thought was, head for the hills. Red Rock Canyon, Mount Charleston—it’s hard not to think of places with elevation when you start planning a hike. But then I had a second idea. Why not check out the Wetlands Park?
That seemed like an idea worth pursuing, so I headed out to the eastern end of Tropicana Boulevard. (Here’s a map.) Out past Boulder Highway, Trop blends into a street called Broadbent. Just off Broadbent is a parking area that’s difficult to miss. A big western ranch-style gate spans the Duck Creek trailhead.
The second I stepped out of my car, I was greeted by two little dogs who instantly communicated their enthusiasm for the Duck Creek Trail. Their owner corroborated what the dogs told me, also mentioning that he lived nearby and never got tired of walking through the park.
I checked out the park rules posted next to the trailhead, which made it obvious why a dog owner would like the place. Dogs on leashes were welcome, the signs said, and so were bikes. Since much of the trail is paved, it looked more like a bike path to me anyway. As I set out on foot, several cyclists passed me, and then a whole family on bikes. Fortunately, the trail is nice and wide. I moseyed out to a place a sign identified as Dragonfly Divide. It’s an appropriate name, because by the time I got there, I’d seen plenty of dragonflies, and a couple more zoomed by while I was looking at the sign.
Crossing a gravel road, I arrived at an expanse of water big enough to be called a lake, but shallow enough that “wetlands” is probably more accurate. Thick groves of reeds rustled in the breeze. It had a decidedly biblical feel to it, but I saw no babies in baskets hidden in the bulrushes—only a few more dragonflies.
I moseyed back, checking out the mesquite trees and the unobstructed view of Frenchman Mountain along the way. While there was plenty of natural vegetation and more that is being encouraged through planting and irrigation, there was no point along the trail where I couldn’t see houses. The views of civilization, combined with the paved walkway, made my walk on the Duck Creek Trail more like a stroll in a city park than a hike. On the plus side, it’s wildly popular, and I liked seeing how many people of all ages were enjoying it. Not to mention their dogs.
Back at the trailhead, I decided to head to the main entrance of the Wetlands Park. To get there, I headed back up (northwest) Broadbent and hung a right on Wetlands Park Lane. The street ends in a traffic circle where a temporary visitor center in a portable building is flanked by a row of bright turquoise plastic restrooms. (The new, permanent visitor center is under construction nearby.) I parked and followed signs that led me a special nature trail for preschool children. Past that, I found myself on network of trails–some paved, some gravel, and some dirt—that meander through the park. These trails are for foot (and wheelchair) travelers only. Dogs and bikes, the signs say, disturb the wildlife.
In this section of the wetlands, I soon discovered, you can forget that the big, bright city is only a few miles away. The breeze rustles through tall cottonwoods, and dense groves of shorter trees and tall grasses screen out any views of development. Gurgling streams open into reed-ringed ponds. I startled a family of quail at one, and a quick-footed roadrunner vacated another as I approached. Tadpoles and little fish darted in the water. And everywhere, dragonflies—some blue, some blazing orange.
The paths through the wetlands are well defined and maintained, and shaded benches beckon at regular intervals. A trip through this part of the park is not a wilderness adventure, but rather a meditative journey through a partially tamed natural landscape. It’s lovely, and what’s even lovelier is that it isn’t even finished yet. When it is, it has the potential to be a jewel to rival urban refuges like the Los Angeles County Arboretum or Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C. Like them, the Wetlands Park offers a natural retreat in the midst of the city, a place apart while still in the midst. It nurtures and celebrates the native beauty of the Las Vegas valley, and it offers just enough management to make it easily accessible.
I came home refreshed and inspired. The Wetlands Park is on my list now, not of places I might go to hike, but of places I can go to get my spirit restored. This isn’t a place that requires you to work up a sweat or test your lung capacity, but rather beckons you to watch for egrets, catch sight of a rabbit, or notice what interesting seed pods screw bean mesquite trees have. Oh, and to count the dragonflies. Or lose count. I certainly did.
View Clark County Wetlands Park in a larger map