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"White Owl Hill"
via White Owl Canyon
Lake Mead NRA, Nevada
April 12, 2016

I don’t know what the chances are of seeing an owl in White Owl Canyon, but Shin, Dinah and I were curious enough to try it. The narrow canyon offers a sheltered area for barn owls near Lake Mead. In and of itself, it’s a short trip, so we extended it to include a nearby high point that I called “White Owl Hill.”

The route to the canyon is well documented on and only takes minutes to hike. We moved through the canyon with as much stealth as we could muster, craned our necks at the ledges high up the towering walls, but spotted no owls. We passed through the canyon and walked through two huge culverts, before coming to a wash. After hiking a kilometre down the wash, we came to a jeep road on our right. The road climbs over the end of the ridge we wanted to ascend, but we needed only to take the road as far as the crest. The high point was a short distance away.

We traversed the ridge, walking through the usual desert scrub, to an unusually big summit cairn for such a small hill. There was no summit register.

We settled down to lunch, distracted by a couple of tarantula hawks that kept buzzing passed our heads. Tarantula hawks are wasps, and intimidating ones at that. According to, its sting isn’t lethal but it produces “an immediate and excruciating pain that simply shuts down one’s ability to do anything, except perhaps, to scream.”

We finished our lunch without any of us writhing in pain, and retraced our steps back through White Owl Canyon and back to the parking lot. Again, we saw no owls.

But our trip wasn’t a complete bird-watching disappointment. We ventured down to the shore of Lake Mead where we spotted a variety of waterfowl. Among them two birds stood out. One was a pelican and one was an egret. They weren’t owls but they were white.

KML and GPX Tracks

From the parking lot, we started down the trail

Tiny sea shells covered the ground. A long drought coupled with a growing demand for water has left the
lake 40 m lower than it was 16 years ago.

The entrance to White Owl Canyon

Shallow at first, the canyon will soon deepen

The walls now rose well above us

There is evidence of owls but no owls

Tiny bones littered the canyon floor (mouse over)

We craned our necks looking for the birds on ledges

Entering the first culvert

Walking down the culvert

After the first culvert there's another canyon

A chockstone in the canyon creates a doorway

The second culvert looked like we were staring down the barrels of a double-barrel shotgun

Most lizards scurried away but this one climbed a rock to study me

After the second culvert we entered a wash

Dinah climbs a low pourover

Eventually we spied a jeep road on the right side of the wash

Hiking up the road

A turkey vulture circled above us. This is not a good place to take a nap.

Once on the ridge, we left the road and set off for the highest point

Looking back at Lake Mead

The summit lies in the distance

We were surprised to find a large cairin on top of a small hill

The tarantula hawk has a painful sting

Bighorn Butte to the south

American white pelican

Snowy egret

On a return visit to White Owl Canyon a few days later, we sighted no owls, but I nearly
stepped on this great basin gopher snake, three or four feet long

Boulder Beach 1:24,000 Topo (5.0 mi, 2021 ft, 942 ft)

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