Drive from near here to waaaay out there.
Drive from right now to waaaay back then.
Park in prehistoric Nevada.
"Most people don't know that in Southern Nevada, we had such large-scale, prehistoric populations," says Dr. Karen Harry, an archaeologist and professor in the anthropology department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "It's kind of a big deal."
Read the entreaty posted in a display case -- "Please Don't Erase the Traces of the Past" -- and realize that long before Las Vegans and state historians linked that ethos to Strip hotel implosions, the Lost City Museum applied it to the ancient Anasazi Indians. Reconstructing a long-ago culture with a bonanza of artifacts here, celebrating the Rat Pack matters less than being archaeological pack rats -- a mission the museum has been on for 75 years, marked by the ongoing "Building on the Past" exhibit through the end of the year.
"When I tell people I work for the Lost City Museum, they're like, 'Is that an old Western town-type of place?' " says museum curator Dena Sedar. "But there is interesting archaeology in this area and we would like people to learn about it."
Straight up Interstate 15, around 65 miles north of Las Vegas on the edge of rural Overton sits the adobe-style attraction, one of seven state-owned museums. Built in 1935 by the National Park Service and on the National Register of Historic Places, it's in a region that was once the western outpost of the Anasazi Indians ("The Ancient Ones"). That native culture lived for more than 1,000 years in the Moapa Valley, its archaeological remains comprising what is known as Pueblo Grande de Nevada.
"It was given the name, 'The Lost City' in the 1920s by the press, who really romanticized it," Sedar says. "It goes from where Lake Mead is now through the entire Moapa Valley."
Featuring photos, artifacts, archival materials and a timeline, "Building on the Past" examines the history of the museum, changes in archaeology and its impact on "Lost City" sites, some of which became more accessible after Lake Mead's water level dropped.
"In the 1930s, they dug a little differently than we do today," says Harry, who conducted digs at the sites in 2006 and 2009.
"They excavated every single room they saw. It wasn't their intention to leave anything behind. Some of these were under Lake Mead for years and years. Every time I hit a site, I never know if there's going to be anything there. To our great excitement, every time we've recovered information and found something useful."
Eclectic elements of the exhibit range from photos such as Fay Perkins Sr., museum curator from 1952-56, at an excavation site -- stylishly sporting a fedora that makes him look like Humphrey Bogart in "The Treasure of Sierra Madre" -- to a poster of a Nancy Drew mystery, 1975's "The Secret of the Forgotten City," referencing the sites in its plot about a treasure hidden in a city buried beneath the Nevada desert.
Elsewhere, displays include fragments of pottery made by the Anasazi and dating back to 1050 A.D., with explanations of restoration procedures; images of ancient petroglyphs; a cone-shaped "burden basket" used to gather seeds; and acrylic paintings donated by the Moapa Valley Art Guild.
Human remains that were once exhibited -- providing information on health, social structures and burial practices of the era -- are no longer displayed because of "a greater awareness of the wishes of descendents," one panel explains.
"The Anasazi thrived for a couple thousand years and then disappeared, and you find out why," Sedar says. "And you can see how their culture evolved while they were here. They didn't have pottery or the bow and arrow when they first settled here, but then there was this dramatic shift in their culture and they had pottery and the bow and arrow. To be able to see that in the archaeological record is pretty great."
Outside the museum, several pueblos reconstructed around 1935 afford children (and adults inclined to bend, crouch and crawl) the opportunity for a close-up view of the era's primitive living conditions.
Respecting both tribal traditions and the exacting work of archaeologists, one museum panel puts its mission into perspective:
"Science and traditional stories are just different ways of knowing. Science should be tempered with sensitivity for tradition, and tradition should benefit from the information science can provide."
Waaaay out here, both are used to re-create a world from waaaay back then.
Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.