Las Vegas Springs preserve tells the story of Southern Nevada | NevadaAppeal.com

Las Vegas Springs preserve tells the story of Southern Nevada

Richard Moreno
The Nevada Traveler
This wooden water derrick is one of the remnants of the original Las Vegas Springs.
Photo by Richard Moreno |

The earliest travelers to the Las Vegas Valley were attracted by the presence of water. In fact, the name, Las Vegas, is Spanish for “the meadows,” and reflects the fact that the area was home to several natural springs and lush grasses.

While the original springs that once bubbled naturally to the surface dried up in the early 1960s, the spot from which the valley’s water originated still exists.

Long known as the North Well Field or “Big Springs,” the site is located about three miles west of downtown Las Vegas. For many years it was hidden behind walls and fences on land owned by the Las Vegas Valley Water District.

In 2007, however, the water district created a 180-acre biological refuge and museum complex around the former site of the springs, which was dedicated to telling the region’s natural history. Called the Las Vegas Springs Preserve, it encompasses a number of attractions including a desert living center, a desert wetland, a botanical garden, the Origen Museum, the Nevada State Museum, and Boomtown 1905, a re-creation of the original settlement of Las Vegas.

The Origen Museum (the name comes from combining the words “origin” and “generation”) contains exhibits devoted to telling the natural and cultural history of the site. The museum contains 63 permanent exhibits, an indoor theater, and various galleries.

For example, the Natural Mojave Gallery has interactive exhibits, such as a flash flood experience, that provide visitors a better understanding of the geology and biology of the surrounding Mojave Desert. The Living Collections includes live exhibits with native creatures from the region, such as Gila monsters, desert cottontails and a gray fox.

The Botanical Garden allows visitors to explore native and non-native plant life that can flourish in the region. Using informative stations and hands-on activities, visitors can tour a butterfly habitat, wander through a teaching garden, and view environmentally-friendly buildings.

The Cienega desert wetland is a seven-acre re-creation of a desert wetland. A series of ponds and a stream create a restored wetland area, which has been re-vegetated with native plants, that has attracted more than 30 species of wildlife, particularly birds, along with the occasional coyote, bobcat and gray fox.

A large part of the preserve has been left undeveloped but with four developed walking trails (covering a total of some four miles) as well as interpretive displays that describe the early settlement and development of Las Vegas. The trails wind around a handful of historic structures and archaeological sites that remain on the site.

Chief among these historic reminders of the area’s earlier uses are several wooden pumping stations that resemble head frames found in old mining towns, an old springhouse built over a spring, ranch house foundations and archaeological digs.

Exploration Loop Trail, which is about two-and-a-quarter miles long, and is partially accessible via a train, takes visitors to several unique attractions including WaterWorks and Boomtown 1905. The former is an exhibit inside the Charleston Heights Pumping Station that offers a behind the scenes look at where underground water comes from how it reaches your home while the latter is a re-created historic streetscene that tells the story of Las Vegas from 1905 to the 1920s.

The Spring Preserve is open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $18.95 for adults ($9.95 for adult Nevada residents), $10.95 for children 5-17 ($4.95 for Nevada kids) and $17.05 for seniors and students ($8.95 for Nevada seniors and students). For more information about Las Vegas Springs Preserve, go to http://www.springspreserve.org.

Rich Moreno writes about the people and places that make Nevada special.