Back To Nature

Las Vegas Springs Preserve beckons with cool water

By: Kathy Espin

The Las Vegas Springs Preserve, a 180-acre nature park opening in May, could be called Las Vegas’ first tourist attraction.

Thousands of years before Benjamin “Don’t Call Me Bugsy” Siegel finished the Flamingo Hotel, the Las Vegas Springs formed an oasis that called travelers to enjoy the cool water and shady vegetation.

Because it was one of the few places for many miles around where water bubbled to the surface of the earth, nomadic Native American tribes have been stopping by for some 5,000 years. In the early 19th century, Spanish traders made the springs a stop on the Old Spanish Trail between Los Angeles and Santa Fe, N.M.

The area was declared a historic landmark in the ’70s and since then has been preserved and protected by the Las Vegas Water District, the guardian of water resources in the valley for 50 years.

When completed, the preserve will be as over-the-top in its own way as the huge mega-resorts just a stone’s throw away.

Imagine, not a showgirl, slot machine or roulette wheel in sight. Imagine too, a $166 million project that will not tear down and replace historic Las Vegas but restore and protect it.

The preserve, located just a couple of miles from the Las Vegas Strip and Downtown, combines art and nature museums, botanical gardens, scenic trails and archaeological sites into one huge family-friendly facility designed to educate and entertain. The idea is to preserve the early history of the city and to promote water and energy conservation, said Jesse Davis, spokesperson for the water district.

The site is part of a working water storage and distribution system that contains wells and storage tanks that supply most of the water for the Downtown Las Vegas area, Davis said.

“This is also an historic landmark so we couldn’t just come in here and put buildings anywhere,” he said pointing out that the main parking lot is located on top of one of the huge water tanks.

The waterworks will become one of the exhibits. Visitors can view the water pump station and see how water is delivered to the city. That’s probably one of the least colorful of the many exhibits planned.

First and foremost there’s the huge visitor’s center and Origen Galleries. The center will incorporate an in-the-round movie theater, a children’s museum, an art gallery and more. Among many interactive displays is one that simulates a flash flood and another that demonstrates the building of Hoover Dam.

The guest services center will house an upscale restaurant with a spectacular view of the Las Vegas Strip and a massive gift shop.

The Desert Living Center is a poster child for water- and energy-smart living and development. A building made of hay bales, partially cooled by evaporative towers and partially lit by sunlight will house classroom, meeting and conference space.

Outside will be an eight-acre botanical garden featuring hundreds of desert plants, a children’s play area and an amphitheater seating 2,000 for concerts, plays and other cultural programs. The scene is set by manufactured rock formations molded and painted to recall the colorful sandstone formations in nearby Red Rock Canyon and Valley of Fire.

Beyond the new development is a network of 2 ½ miles of walking trails that wind through historic sites and archaeological digs where artifacts dating back thousands of years have been found. The ruins of ancient buildings are still located on the site including a Native American pit house that dates back 1,200 years. The trails will also border the cienega, a desert wetland area that replicates the natural pool once formed by the springs. The area has already seen the return of desert birds and animals that haven’t been seen in the city for many years, Davis said.

When the park opens in May, one important component will still be under construction. The Nevada State Museum and Historical Society will be relocated to the site in a new $21 million facility. The current museum, located a few miles away, has for years been a local’s favorite but has out-grown its long-time home.

Davis said the preserve will offer catering for meetings and events, group tours in addition to full-service wedding planning services. Group, meeting and wedding packages are currently being developed. No decisions have been made so far on travel agent commissions, Davis said.


The preserve is located at the corner of Alta Drive and Valley View Boulevard, just off Interstate 95, west of Downtown Las Vegas.

Las Vegas Springs Preserve
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