Spring Mountain Ranch's past on display

Historic Spring Mountain Ranch State Park provides a scenic spot close to Las Vegas for picnics, hiking, ranch tours and special programs year-round. Twenty years ago, the park began offering living history presentations during spring and fall weekends. These popular programs highlight events and people from the ranch's intriguing past.

Nestled at the base of the Red Rock cliffs, the park is readily accessed from Nevada Route 159, the extension of Charleston Boulevard. A drive of less than 30 minutes takes visitors to the park's entrance from most areas of the Las Vegas Valley.

The park is open daily from 8 a.m. to dusk. Entrance fees are $7 for Nevada residents and $9 for nonresidents. The fee entitles visitors to parking, use of picnic facilities, guided tours, a variety of programs and outings such as nature hikes, astronomy sessions with experts and living history programs. Call (702) 875-4141 for more information.

Because of natural water sources in an arid landscape, the ranch site drew visitors from the earliest times. Native cultures frequented the area to hunt, gather wild foods, preserve or roast their harvests and plant small plots of corn, beans and squash. It lay along part of a network of overland trails they established to trade with others.

Early mountain men and explorer John C. Fremont made use of native trails. The future ranch site provided these trailblazers with respite from desert heat and pasturage for livestock. It became an important stop for traders on the Old Spanish Trail. Eventually, settlers established a ranch.

The scenic location drew the rich and famous by the 1940s. A series of celebrity owners sought privacy on the remote property. The state of Nevada acquired the land in the late 1960s, saving the 520-acre site from being parceled by developers, and preserved the ranch as a park now enjoyed by thousands of people annually.

During the park's living history programs, visitors learn about the past through first-person interpretations of events by costumed historical figures, participate in demonstrations of frontier and pioneer skills, observe mountain men encamped at a rendezvous and meet re-enactors at a Civil War military camp.

The fall programs begin Sept. 15, Owners' Day, when visitors meet previous holders of the property. Costumed characters will relate their views of ranch history from noon to 4 p.m. at the ranch house and in the historic area.

On Pioneer Day, Sept. 29, visitors watch experts demonstrate skills common in pioneer times, such as handling a black powder rifle. Costumed settlers will demonstrate home arts such as spinning, weaving, needlework, candle dipping and Dutch oven cooking from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the historic area.

Civil War Days, Oct. 27 and 28, will celebrate Nevada's Battle Born entrance to the Union in 1864. At a tent camp set up in the main pasture, visitors meet costumed soldiers and families who demonstrate camp life skills. Visitors browse the sutler's store, watch squads drill and observe military skirmishes. The encampment will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days.

A mountain man rendezvous marks Veteran's Day weekend, Nov. 10 and 11. A primitive campsite set up in the upper pasture will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event provides glimpses of a colorful period when leather-clad fur trappers employed special skills to survive the wilderness. Visitors watch trappers craft leather goods, make bullets, fire black powder weapons, flake arrowheads, shape metal implements and compete in the use of knives, lances, tomahawks and atlatls, throwing sticks used by native hunters.

Margo Bartlett Pesek's column appears on Sundays.