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Bonnie Springs Ranch a nearby taste of Old West

A private in-holding in the heart of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Bonnie Springs Ranch draws crowds all year. Located just minutes from busy Las Vegas, Bonnie Springs offers rustic experiences such as horseback riding, country-style dining, a replica Western Village, an engaging petting zoo and the only overnight accommodations in the Red Rock area.

Bonnie Springs Ranch lies along the scenic loop created by West Charleston Boulevard, Highway 159 and Highway 160. Look for its entrance five and a half miles south of the turnoff to the Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center.

A paved ranch road leads to a large lower parking area, where parking fees may apply. On weekends, a miniature train picks up passengers from the lower lot for transport to the main ranch facilities such as the restaurant motel, Old Nevada village, zoo and stables. A small lot lies closer to the ranch buildings.

Because of its natural springs, the property drew travelers using the Old Spanish Trail, the major overland route through the area in frontier times. The parade of historic figures passing by included John C. Fremont in the mid-1840s. In 1952, Al and Bonnie Levinson began developing the property into a tourist destination with stables, a bar and a restaurant. Old Nevada and the motel came later.

The private zoo of domestic, native and exotic animals developed almost accidentally, growing from Bonnie’s love of animals and her inability to turn away injured and abandoned animals that showed up. There was plenty of space for enclosures and outdoor cages. The resulting compound includes an aviary, the main zoo and a petting zoo, where visitors feed and pet several gentle species of deer, sheep and goats. The animals appear to be well-fed, well-watered, cared for and picked up after. The zoo invites visitors daily from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Old Nevada offers a simulated Old West experience. Don’t expect Las Vegas slick and showroom fancy, although what you get will be fun, but a little hokey. Explore the board-walked street lined with weathered buildings where gunfights and hangings take place several times daily. Stroll through the handfuls of shops, enjoy a snack or drink in the saloon and head for the opera house for the latest melodrama or weekend variety show. Conventioneers and other large groups often opt for live bands and saloon girls for added Old West flavor.

At this time of year, Old Nevada stays open weekdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and weekends from 10:30 to 5 p.m. An entry fee covering Old Nevada and the zoo costs $20 per carload of up to six people or a little more per person for smaller groups. No entrance fee applies to patrons of other ranch facilities.

The folksy decor in the restaurant and bar includes menus appearing as labels on whiskey bottles. Open daily from 9 am to 9 p.m., the restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and diner, specializing in barbecued chicken, ribs and steaks. Dining room windows look out over a pond favored by domestic and wild ducks and geese, as well as turtles. Food for the birds is available.

Open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. this time of year, the stables lie beyond the restaurant. Some Southern Nevada residents board their horses at Bonnie Springs for easy access to trails. Red Rock Stables offers pony rides for children 5 years and younger and guided horseback rides for riders aged 6 through adult. A 250-pound weight limit applies to horseback riders. Riders pay $55 for hour-long ambles through the ranch acreage and adjacent public land. Ask about family or group rates and special rides wen you call the ranch for information or reservations at 875-4191. Check in at the restaurant 30 minutes before your ride.

Popular with technical climbers drawn to the hundreds of climbing routes in the Red Rock area, the motel at Bonnie Springs Ranch puts them close to the action. Other guests just want to stay in a place where the desert and colorful cliffs lie close by and nights often bring a serenade by a chorus of coyotes

The two-story motel offers 50 guest rooms and suites. Room rates Sundays through Thursdays run from $85 to $150, Fridays and Saturdays from $100 to $165. Call 875-4400 for information and reservations.

Margo Bartlett Pesek’s column appears on Sundays.

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