Bonnie Springs remains popular draw

After more than 60 years in operation, Bonnie Springs Ranch still draws crowds year-round. The privately owned dude ranch is minutes from Las Vegas, surrounded by the arresting scenery of the Red Rock National Conservation Area.

Bonnie Springs offers country-style experiences such as horseback riding, a replica Western village with shops and entertainment, a petting zoo, a rustic bar and restaurant and the only motel accommodations in the area.

Bonnie Springs Ranch sits along the scenic loop created by West Charleston Boulevard, state Route 159 and state Route 160. The entrance is south of Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, about 5½ miles past the turnoff to the Red Rock Canyon visitor center.

Natural springs on the property attracted early native people, overland traders on the Old Spanish Trail and, in 1846, explorer John C. Fremont. Frontier times brought ranchers to springs and meadows throughout Red Rock.

In 1952, Al and Bonnie Levinson purchased the property to develop a tourist destination. They named the ranch after Bonnie and built a home for themselves as well as a bar, restaurant and stables for visitors. The Western village and the motel came later.

The petting zoo of domesticated livestock, native wildlife, birds and exotic animals grew from a collection of abandoned and rescued animals that Bonnie Levinson could not turn away. They seem well cared for and adequately housed.

The paved ranch road runs a couple of miles to dead-end near the replica town called Old Nevada and the ranch-style building that houses the bar and restaurant. A side road accesses the motel and the horse corrals. The motel offers a variety of themed rooms, some with hot tubs and some with kitchenettes. A pool is open in hot weather. For room rates and reservations, call the ranch at 702-875-4191.

There is limited parking near the central facilities, which is usually adequate for weekday visitors. On weekends and holidays, when the ranch attracts larger crowds, it’s best to park in the large parking area just off the main road. The lot is served by a small-sized railroad with passenger cars that makes round-trips to Old Nevada on weekends and holidays. The train ride is free up to the attractions, but if you want to complete the round-trip back to the parking area, be ready to show a ticket stub or restaurant receipt.

Visitors are welcome to explore the ranch facilities free of charge. Restaurant patrons enjoy watching the action on and around a large pond in front of the eatery’s windows. Ducks and geese swim by and turtles bask on rocks or muddy banks. Visitors walking the grounds can purchase food pellets for the waterfowl. Old-timers might remember when the pond was stocked with fish. For a fee, you could rent fishing equipment, and if you caught anything, the kitchen staff would cook it for you to eat in the dining room.

The petting zoo can be accessed from inside Old Nevada. The entrance fee for both attractions is $10 for adults and $7 for children. Visitors can browse in several shops and galleries along boardwalks. Entertainment includes occasional staged shootouts in the dusty street, a musical review and weekend karaoke and live musical groups.

The horse facilities are south of the restaurant. Guided trail rides and pony rides are available. Horses are also boarded there. The first ride starts at 9 a.m. Hourlong excursions through scenic ranch property cost $60. Riders must be at least 6 years old. The horses can carry riders up to 250 pounds. Dress for the activity, which is out in the sun on dusty trails. Wear a hat, sunblock and closed shoes or boots. Riders can sign up in the bar or call the ranch for details.

Margo Bartlett Pesek’s column appears on Sundays.

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