weather icon Clear

Pumpkin patch is open at Gilcrease Orchard in Las Vegas

The sign near the Gilcrease Orchard checkout counters advertised squash blossoms, 25 cents each. But while there were displays of cold apple and pear ciders and bags of kettle corn nearby, there was nary a squash blossom in sight. Where, asked a visitor, were they?

“On the squash,” quipped Mona Rivero with just a trace of a wry smile. “We’re a U-pick orchard.”

Thousands of people visit this 60-acre agricultural oasis every year. While commercially grown crops abounded in parts of the Las Vegas valley decades ago, today the orchard is a lasting example of what nature intended.

Sometimes, orchard director Mark Ruben said, that gets a little confusing for visitors. At the end of September he was having a tough time discouraging people from picking the Pink Lady apples. They weren’t due to ripen until mid-October, and an apple doesn’t ripen off the tree.

“When they go to the grocery store, everything they see is ready,” Ruben said “They come here, they see it and they think it’s ready.”

Brittany Thompson and her 8-year-old daughter, Raelynn, were there on a recent morning with a group of 12 from their church.

“It’s a good educational venue to understand how nature works,” Thompson said. The lesson wasn’t lost on Raelynn, who had just spotted her first apple tree bearing fruit. She also listened with rapt attention while a worker, with the aid of a two-sided, glass-enclosed hive, explained “The Life and Times of Bumblebees” and the vital role they play in agriculture.

“I should have brought a notebook,” Raelynn said.

Nearby, a group of about 150 parents and children on a field trip from Shenker Academy in Summerlin were preparing to tackle the hay-bale maze, a welcome release on a day that had started with a presentation in the orchard’s amphitheater on bees, led by Julie Baird. After the program, they loaded into wagons for a tour of the orchard, followed by the chance to play in the hay maze, see chickens and a desert tortoise and visit a pumpkin patch set aside just for them.

“I think too many kids spend too much time in front of the TV,” Baird said. “It’s good for them to get out and see how our food supply works.”

And, occasionally, smells. Joey Guttman, 4 1/2, wrinkled his nose as he toed at a patch of suspiciously rich soil and asked his mom, Samantha: “What’s that smell?”

“We’re on a farm,” she replied.

Gilcrease originally was a going — and growing — concern, a farm worked by the family of the same name beginning in the 1920s. In a 2002 interview, Ted Gilcrease, who died the following year, said his parents, Leonard and Elda, along with Ted and his brother, Bill, came to Las Vegas in 1920. Although they had 960 acres, the dearth of water supplies meant they were able to farm only about 60. And since the little town of less than 5,000 people couldn’t support a fruit-and-vegetable operation, they branched out into alfalfa and grain.

With the dawn of the Great Depression, Leonard wanted to return to California, but Elda chose to stay on because land meant security. Ted Gilcrease found himself running the whole operation at age 16. Development of water resources eventually enabled them to work 1,500 acres, and at one time, Ted said, their laying hens supplied half of the eggs in Las Vegas.

It was never an easy life, but Ted Gilcrease seemed to inherit a reverence for land from his mother. As he neared the end of his life he wanted to see the much-reduced property survive in perpetuity. According to the orchard’s website, he “commissioned the Board of Trustees to first, preserve the Orchard, second, beautify it, and third, provide educational and recreational activities for the public.”

It’s operated today by a nonprofit foundation, but nonprofits still need to survive financially, and that’s where Ruben comes in. In the 10 years he’s been there, he’s greatly expanded the orchard’s offerings. The website tells visitors what’s available, and a free app helps them find it once they’re there.

“When I came here, they had zucchini and apricots,” Ruben said. “I wouldn’t come out here for two things, but I would come out for seven.”

Ruben knows plenty about raising crops in a harsh climate and has introduced quicker-maturing varieties to beat the heat of summer. Today, Gilcrease produces cider —15,000 gallons this year, all from the orchard’s trees — which has brought it a bit of fame (and is being used by Vegas Valley Winery to produce its hard cider), as have its seasonally available apple-cider doughnuts.

The most popular crop? Pumpkins, with the orchard selling half a million pounds per year. Demand is such that it easily outstrips supply.

“When I came here, pumpkins would run out the first weekend,” Ruben said.

The solution? Many of them are brought in from Utah, where the climate is a little more conducive to growing them.

Just don’t tell the kids.

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Entertainment Videos
Central Perk coffee shop opens for business
As part of Saturday’s “Friends” Fan Experience at New York-New York hotel-casino, the artist Nathan Sawaya debuts his life-size, 700-square-foot re-creation of the show’s Central Perk coffee shop that’s constructed entirely out of Lego bricks. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Binion's debuts a spinning bar overlooking Fremont Street Experience
Binion's debuted its spinning bar inside the Whiskey Licker Up Saloon. The Rotating bar only goes at one full rotation per 15 minutes overlooking the Fremont Street Experience. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Green Eggs and Ham at Carson Kitchen in Las Vegas
Scott Simon, executive chef at Carson Kitchen in Las Vegas, makes a Green Eggs and Ham Flatbread with pistou, smoked mozzarella, tasso ham and eggs. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Lemon Semifreddo Dessert at Vetri Cucina in Las Vegas
Ashley Costa, pastry chef at Vetri Cucina at the Palms in Las Vegas, freezes lemon curd with whipped cream, sandwiches it between polenta-based crumiri cookies, sprinkles it with powdered sugar and drizzles it with argrumato, a lemon olive oil. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Hard Rock Memorabilia Exhibition
The 2,600-square-foot exhibit, which is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays to Mondays through Jan. 31, spans eras and genres alike. There are numerous rare and never-before-seen items here, featuring artists from ZZ Top to Nine Inch Nails, Bo Diddley to Britney Spears. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Museum of Selfies coming to Las Vegas - VIDEO
The interactive attraction offers several new selfie opportunities. (Museum of Selfies)
Show of Strength in 'A Choreographers Showcase' - VIDEO
"A Choreographers Showcase" pairs artists from Nevada Ballet Theater and staff from all facets of Cirque du Soleil to design an annual show. (Elizabeth Page Brumleyy/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
David Chang talks about what to expect at his new restaurant, Majordomo Meat & Fish - VIDEO
David Chang tells fans what to expect at his new restaurant, Majordomo Meat & Fish, at The Venetian on the Las Vegas Strip. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pink Lady and Rosey Mary cocktails at Therapy in Las Vegas
Terence Beach, bartender at Therapy restaurant in Las Vegas, makes original pink cocktails to benefit breast cancer research. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Torrijas dessert served at Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill in Las Vegas
Chef Christian Lee of Sugarcane at The Venetian in Las Vegas makes a dessert of torrijas, a Latin French toast, serving it with a caramelized-apple sauce and cinnamon ice cream. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
David Chang to sell Tasty Patties at Palazzo in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Chef David Chang has announced a casual concept that will accompany his new Majordomo Meat & Fish at Palazzo on the Las Vegas Strip. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Latkes, tzimmes at Market Place Buffet in Las Vegas for Rosh Hashanah
Ryan Swanson, Market Place Buffet room chef at the JW Marriott/Rampart Casino in Las Vegas, makes potato dishes as part of the resort’s Rosh Hashanah buffet. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
How Elphaba In "Wicked" turns green - VIDEO
Mariand Torres gets "painted" by makeup supervisor Joyce McGilberry for her role as Elphaba in "Wicked" at The Smith Center. (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Hangover is served at The Crack Shack in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Khine Moore, executive chef at The Crack Shack at Park MGM in Las Vegas, makes The Hangover with a fried chicken breast or thigh dipped in honey-butter, sprinkled with Crack Seasoning and topped with an egg. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dessert Before Dinner winner Becky Quan
Nine of Las Vegas’ top women pastry chefs offered original creations built around Girl Scouts Trefoils shortbread cookies Saturday night at Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada’s annual Desserts Before Dinner Gala. The top dessert, as voted on by the audience, was an homage to Good Humor’s old-fashioned Strawberry Shortcake ice cream bars created by NoMad’s Becky Quan. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Chef Sammy D is cooking again in Las Vegas
Sam DeMarco served his first public meal since returning to Las Vegas on Sunday, with a pop-up brunch at 7th & Carson. And the veteran of the First Food & Bar, Rattlecan and Sam’s American has more in store for the downtown spot. The chef, known as Sammy D. to his friends, is taking on a consulting chef role with restaurant that will see some of Sunday’s offerings added to the regular menu. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Carl’s Donuts in Las Vegas celebrates National Cream-Filled Doughnut Day
Carl’s Donuts, a Las Vegas-based company that’s been serving the city since 1966, celebrates National Cream-Filled Doughnut Day with specialties themed to fall. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rick Harrison of "Pawn Stars" has a new store - VIDEO
Rick Harrison, the Pawn Stars co-star and owner of Gold & Silver Pawn, talks to the Review-Journal’s John Katsilometes about his soon-to-open Rick’s Collection retail outlet of mostly mid-century masterworks at the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pok Pok Wing at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas serves Pad Thai Thamadaa - VIDEO
Because of popular request, the 1-year-old Pok Pok Wing at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas serves Pad Thai Thamadaa, with shrimp, ground pork, neither or both. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trial by Fire cocktail at the Golden Tiki in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Adam Rains, head bartender (also Grand Poobah and a few other things) at The Golden Tiki in Las Vegas, makes one of the bar’s tiki drinks, (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gordon Ramsay renovating Las Vegas steakhouse - VIDEO
Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay is preparing to re-launch his Paris Las Vegas restaurant, Gordon Ramsay Steak. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Cats owners compete for top show awards
The annual Jazzy Cats event is taking place at the Rio Convention Center this weekend attracting cats owners from around the country and the world to compete for the top show awards. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Brooklyn Bowl in Las Vegas serves blackened Cajun catfish - VIDEO
Troy Remer, sous chef at Brooklyn Bowl at The Linq Promenade in Las Vegas, blackens Cajun catfish on the grill before serving it with mashed potatoes and collard greens. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Gold Encrusted Filet Mignon at Mr. Chow - VIDEO
This just may be the gold standard for the filet mignon. Mr. Chow at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas has introduced The Gold Encrusted Filet Mignon, which is coated with real 24-karat gold. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Working as a mermaid in Las Vegas - VIDEO
McKenzie Kawano works as a mermaid at the aquarium at the Silverton in Las Vegas. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pinkbox Doughnuts opens third store in Las Vegas area
Las Vegas-based Pinkbox Doughnuts, which opened its third store at 9435 W. Tropicana Ave., specializes in doughnuts such as the new Station Wagon, with Butterfinger; pink-velvet Pretty in Pink; and hybrid Glazed DoughCro Bites. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal, with image courtesy of Pinkbox Doughnuts
Starbucks brings back Pumpkin Spice early
Starbucks declares Aug. 27 the first day of fall as they make their pumpkin spice items available a full month early. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bachelor Party Fra Diavolo at Carmine’s in Las Vegas
Roberto Leon, a line cook at Carmine’s at The Forum Shops at Caesars in Las Vegas, makes Bachelor Party Fra Diavolo with eight pounds of lobster, a pound each of mussels, clams and shrimp, two pounds of pasta and two gallons of sauce. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
'American Idol' auditions in Las Vegas
“American Idol” was in Las Vegas Monday looking for singers to compete in its upcoming 2020 season. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegan part of the Harlem Globetrotters
Scooter Christensen, who grew up in Las Vegas, will play with the Harlem Globetrotters at The Orleans in Las Vegas Sunday, Aug. 25. (Mat Luschek / Las Vegas Review-Journal)