John C. Fremont and Kit Carson camped there in 1844. In 1849, frontiersman Jefferson Hunt and his emigrant party rested there for a day and described springs with roiling quicksand. In the 1850s, the Mormon settlers of Las Vegas grazed their cattle there. "There," of course, is the place that generations of Las Vegans have known as Big Springs. It was these springs that fed Las Vegas Creek which in turn created the "vegas" (Spanish for meadows) a couple of miles downstream to the east. Their water made possible the founding of the city of Las Vegas.
With the organization of the Las Vegas Springs Preserve, the site is about to play a new role for residents and visitors. The Preserve will be a major site for the interpretation of southern Nevada's history, prehistory, and natural history. It is set to open on May 15, 2005, the centennial celebration of the land auction, which gave birth to the city of Las Vegas. For us, the staff, volunteers and members of the Museum, the exciting possibility is that we will be a part of it.
The 180-acre site, long protected by the Las Vegas Valley Water District from casual intrusion, is a potential treasure trove of artifacts relating to ancient inhabitants, early settlers, and the pioneer founders of Las Vegas. Its significance is recognized by its listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Serious archaeological work has only recently begun and will continue for many years.
Once open to the public, it will provide visitors the opportunity to understand first hand how Native Americans utilized the resources of the springs and the nearby spring mound, what rare and protected species of plants and animals still exist there, how central the site was to Mormon settlers and later city builders, and how the Las Vegas Land and Water Company and LVVWD have facilitated the city's growth. A central theme will be preservation of the fragile Mojave Desert environment and conservation of precious waterresources.
From the inception of the idea of the Preserve, plans have called for a visitor center and museum. Perhaps the Nevada State Museum and Historical Society will be that museum. Discussions are currently underway among state and museum officials, Water District personnel, and outside consultants to determine the feasibility of meshing our mission with that of the Preserve.
The Preserve's mission statement calls for the promotion of sustainable life in the desert by integrating environmentally sensitive design and conservation through demonstration, education, and research. Also emphasizing education, our mission is to collect, research, interpret, exhibit, and preserve Nevada's heritage for present and future generations. It seems a close fit.
Should the way be cleared to move the Museum to the Preserve, it will mean transferring our operations about an eighth of a mile due south, a quarter inch on a large-scale city map. But it will also mean a great leap into a new era at a high profile site with considerable historic and archaeological significance. It is a truly exciting possibility.
Frank Wright is long-time curator of manuscripts for the Nevada State Museum and Historical Society in Las Vegas.
The Nevada State Museum and Historical Society is one of seven museums run by the Nevada Department of Museums, Library and Arts. DMLA also includes the Office of Historic Preservation, the Nevada State Library and Archives, and the State Arts Council. DMLA serves Nevada's citizens and visitors through cultural and information management, preservation and promotion of cultural resources, and education. Other key components of the department are the Comstock Historic District Commission, the Literacy Coalition, the Advisory Committee on Participatory Democracy, and the Commission for Cultural Affairs. More information can be found on the Web at: