Springs Preserve explores Las Vegas past, future
|Video: Wanda Adams tours Springs Preserve|
By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Travel Editor
By Wanda A. Adams
Most people think Las Vegas was invented by the mob as a way to make — and launder — dirty money.
The Springs Preserve, a 180-acre nature preserve/garden/educational and resource center just three miles from the Strip, tells the true story.
Part of the state's Las Vegas Valley Water District, set aside as a preserve and listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1978, this remnant of desert landscape on South Valley View Boulevard is sometimes referred to as "the birthplace of Las Vegas."
And what it teaches you is that Las Vegas has existed in some form for thousands of years. Archaeologist have found evidence of human activity there going back 5,000 years.
All this came as quite a surprise to the Kirk Fukunaga family, who were visiting Las Vegas and saw an ad for the preserve in a tourist magazine. "We didn't know anything about it," said Fukunaga, of Kailua, meaning either the preserve or the history of Las Vegas.
Fukunaga was traveling with his wife and two sons, 7 and 9, during the holiday season when they visited the preserve. "But we figured maybe it would be a good thing to run the kids around outdoors a little and let 'em see something that's not made of plastic. We had a good time. We really liked it, all the weird cactuses and learning about the Indians. We picked up the guide to the classes and events, and we'd like to come back sometime when there's something specific for the kids to do and we could just walk around and enjoy the desert while they're busy."
Five thousand years ago, there weren't any roulette wheels or showgirls. What there was was water. And not the Bellagio fountains, either.
There were bubbling artesian springs, creating oases that drew first animals, then humans: the nomadic Patayan, ancestors of tribes that would make more permanent homes in the area later, such as the Southern Paiute; then Spanish explorers (who named it "Las Vegas," "The Meadows" for the grasses that grew around the springs); then settlers and Mormons and cowpokes and then — just a blink of an eye back in terms of the place's long history — gamblers and tourists. They're the only ones that didn't come for the water.
The springs dried up in 1962.
And that's another reason that creators of this $250 million attraction saw the need for it: Las Vegas' future depends on making careful use of scarce water resources. And the city shares with the entire planet the need to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.
So part of the exhibit — the Ori-Gen Experience historical museum and La Cienaga, an outdoor re-creation of the disappeared desert wetlands — focuses on the area's past and in particular the people and wildlife who shared the natural wealth of the springs for hundreds of years before casinos invaded.
But a large portion of the space is devoted to the present and the future. The present is represented by 8 acres of gardens that exhibit desert-adapted plants and explore the principles of water-conserving gardening practices and the growing of native and drought-tolerant plants. The hopeful future is explored in the Desert Living Center, a complex that includes exhibits on resource usage and alternatives, multimedia displays that highlight the ways that the preserve has modeled a "green" approach in all its structures, a place where young collectors can trade natural-found items and learn more about them, a library, a training center for sustainability practices, a photo gallery on the effects of climate change and much more.
You can wander through an eco-friendly house and participate in a series of interactive exhibits — everything from an exercise bike that generates power to a shopping spree in which you have to try to pick the least ecologically damaging products.
There's lots for children — a playground, a gallery of hands-on games and activities, an exhibit of live desert-dwelling animals, and frequent programs, including themed school and Boy Scout and Girl Scout tours.
And there is a network of trails, and finally the Nevada State Museum, under construction and due to open in 2009.
Even if you're not much for educational exhibits, after a few days of clanging casinos, there is great respite in just walking the crunching gravel paths, listening to the wind in the scrubby trees and grasses, watching unfamiliar birds and hoping for no unfamiliar snakes and noting the similarities between the ingenuity and spirituality of the Hawaiians and that of the Native Americans who managed to live in this extreme climate (with underground houses for very hot or very cold times and grass huts for milder weather, raised platforms for drying food, gardens that made the most of the sparse water).
The Strip it's not.
Reach Wanda A. Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org.