Springs Preserve: Las Vegas History and Science for the Entire Family

Lisa Fritscher November 11, 2011 No Comments

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Springs Preserve Entrance, Las Vegas

The winding entrance set the stage for the adventures to follow

Las Vegas, Nevada is world famous for its casinos, nightclubs and other adult-focused entertainment. What is less well known is the sheer number of family attractions that the city offers. Dad and I both love history and science, so when we heard about Springs Preserve, we knew we had to visit.

About Springs Preserve

Opened in 2007, Springs Preserve is located on the site of a massive artesian spring that once sustained life in the Las Vegas Valley. The area was a frequent stop for nomadic Native American tribes as early as 12,000 years ago. In the late 1800s, Spanish explorers on their way to California discovered the spring as they blazed what is now known as the Old Spanish Trail. They dubbed the region Las Vegas, Spanish for “the meadows.”

Early railroads required frequent water stops to replenish the steam locomotives, and the spring in Las Vegas was a natural choice. The Las Vegas Land & Water Company was established to manage the spring and the town site that grew up around it. In the midst of the Nevada desert, Las Vegas was truly a needed oasis.

Springs Preserve Complex, Las Vegas

The Springs Preserve complex is massive

The spring dried up in 1962, and the site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Today, Springs Preserve is a 180-acre complex dedicated to preserving the rich history of the Las Vegas Valley. Springs Preserve takes its commitment to the environment seriously, striving to provide as many of its own resources as possible. The Preserve’s solar panels generate approximately 75 percent of its power, while water used on site is filtered and recycled for irrigation and restroom needs.

As of 2011, admission to Springs Preserve is $18.95 for adults, $17.05 for seniors, students and military members, and $10.95 for children aged 5 through 17. Kids aged 4 and under are free. Nevada residents receive a nearly half-price discount on all admission tiers. The Preserve is generally open 10 to 6 daily, although hours occasionally vary due to special events.

Our Experience

Origen Museum Springs Preserve

The Origen Museum uses a hub-and-spoke design

Dad and I were pleasantly surprised at the sheer size and diversity of the Springs Preserve complex. There is a bit of a maze of rocks and desert plant life between the parking lot and the ticket booth, and again between some of the buildings, neatly setting the stage for the day’s adventures.

We began our exploration in the Origen Museum. This circular exhibit space is arranged in a hub-and-spoke design off the main rotunda, making it easy to quickly get to whichever exhibits interest you most. The majority of exhibits here are dedicated to the human history of the region.

Springs Preserve Land Auction

The People of the Springs immersed us in the region's first land auction

We were particularly impressed by the People of the Springs exhibit. Using a blend of statues and voiceovers, the exhibit did a fantastic job of making us feel like we were part of the first land auction in the region and a railroad trip through the Old West. Next up were a series of recreated Native American dwellings and an interactive archeological exploration.

Other highlights in the Origen Museum were the high-tech theater shows. The Hoover Dam show provided excellent insight into the men who risked their lives to build the legendary Dam, while the Natural Mojave Gallery offered us an up-close glimpse at the region’s dangerous flash floods.

Springs Preserve Animals

Animals are an important part of the Springs Preserve family

Twice a day, the Preserve offers a show called Bugs! We took a seat in the comfortable auditorium for an interactive presentation on some of the region’s best-known insects. Children are selected from the audience to participate, including sticking their hands into boxes containing various bugs. If your child wants to get involved, sit near the front and encourage her to raise her hand and show a lot of enthusiasm.

Animals play an important role at Springs Preserve, with more than 250 species on display. Look for a collection of insects inside the Natural Mojave Gallery, and a winding trail through a variety of habitats just outside the Origen Museum. It was scorching hot on the day of our visit, with temperatures well over 100 degrees, so we did not linger on the animal trail for too long. Nonetheless, it was a very well done display featuring roomy, naturalistic habitats for the wildlife. Featured species included a wide variety of lizards, scorpions, and an adorable gray fox.

Springs Preserve Cafe, Las Vegas

The Springs Cafe was gourmet yet accessible

After exploring the Origen Museum, we decided to break for lunch at the Springs Café. Operated by the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas, the café offers an extensive menu of gourmet yet accessible fare in a casual setting. The children’s menu offers several kid-friendly choices including wood fired burgers and grilled cheese sandwiches.

With full bellies, we set out to explore the rest of the complex. Next up was the Desert Living Center, a set of interactive galleries dedicated to teaching more sustainable ways of utilizing our environmental resources. Our favorite spot was the Nature Exchange. The sizeable room was packed to nearly overflowing with items such as fossils, dead insects and rocks.

Springs Preserve Nature Exchange

Kids can trade items from nature at the Nature Exchange

The premise is simple but brilliant. Kids are invited to bring in items they find in nature. There are a few rules, such as not collecting in protected areas, and the Exchange does not accept endangered or threatened species, birds or vertebrates. But within the rules, kids may bring in virtually anything they find. They receive a few points for the item, but many more points depending on their level of knowledge about their find. Those who know what the item is, where they found it, how it is formed and other details receive the most points. They can then use their points to receive items from the Exchange. It is a fun and easy way to get kids excited about nature.

Springs Preserve Botanical Garden

The Botanical Garden offered a peaceful respite

Past the Desert Living Center is an extensive botanical garden. In addition to over a thousand native plants, the garden offers a wide variety of interactive exhibits designed to teach visitors the principles of responsible garden design. Some exhibits focus on food, including edible plants and outdoor cooking. Others focus on water conservation, design elements, and even the unique challenges faced by disabled gardeners.

Springs Preserve also offers nearly two miles of nature trails with exhibits and informational signage around every turn. Due to the extreme heat and lack of time, we did not fully explore the trails, but they would be absolutely breathtaking on a more temperate day.

Tips for Parents

Springs Preserve Flash Flood

The flash flood was surprisingly intense

Springs Preserve is truly a journey of exploration. Thoughtfully designed to encourage wandering, the Preserve offers new experiences around every bend. Despite spending a full day at the Preserve, we did not feel like we saw everything in depth. Rather than trying to pack in every single display, focus your time on the things that interest you and your kids the most.

Pick up a free guide map when you purchase your tickets and create a loose itinerary, but allow yourselves to get swept up in the moment. There are endless opportunities to stop and play, and learn something in the process, but many of the best spots are found only by those who slow down and look around.

Carry plenty of water. The animal exhibits and hiking trails can be extremely hot and dry, and it is a long way between buildings. Even on cooler days, the dry desert air can be dehydrating. Hats, comfortable shoes and sunscreen are absolutely essential.

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avatarAbout the Author:

Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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