Pioneer Day takes visitors back to old Las Vegas

Two wild donkeys crossed the road in front of a line of cars rolling into Spring Mountain Ranch State Park on Saturday morning, making it clear that this wasn’t your typical Las Vegas attraction.

The park, more than 20 miles west of the Strip, next to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, was hosting Pioneer Day.

The one-day event turned back the clock to park’s early days as a pioneer ranch with an insight into the Nevada frontier.

Though the event has been held for more than 10 years, it hasn’t taken place in the past two years and was revived on Saturday, according to David Low, a park interpreter at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park.

“The park exists for two reasons: to offer the public access to a true oasis in the Mojave Desert and to preserve the history of the Las Vegas Valley,” he said.

“It was originally called the Sandstone Ranch, and it was one of the three ranches that were the nucleus of our community. This event recreates a moment in Las Vegas history when ranching and mining were the backbone of Las Vegas’ economy,” he added.

According to Low, in years past, Pioneer Day has attracted upward of 400 people to the park to participate in activities such as candle and soap making, butter churning, donkey rides and gold panning, among others. He added that 1,000 people had visited the park as of Saturday afternoon.

Brooke Weidauer of Las Vegas brought her four children to Pioneer Day on the sunny afternoon to teach them a history lesson.

“I think once they see how hard things used to be, it makes them more grateful for what they have,” she said. “Also, this isn’t what you think of when you think of Las Vegas. It’s off the Strip, close to the mountains and shows that there’s still history here.”

Las Vegas resident Michelle Bortvit brought her son Ethan, a seventh-grader whom she home-schools, in an effort to drive home her American history teachings.

“It’s a nice experience especially getting to see how the founders experienced life back in the day,” she said. “It puts my teachings into perspective.”

Bill Durbin, chief of Southern Nevada operations for the Nevada Division of Minerals, and his staff were on hand to demonstrate the art of gold panning and what minerals such as gold, copper and silver ore are made into.

“Nevada’s history was founded in mining and through our historical demonstration people are able to appreciate the efforts that go into it,” he said. “We try to attend as many public events as we can so kids are able to learn about Nevada’s history.”

As Kelly Richard’s 7-year-old twin boys panned for gold, her mother, Leslie Jack, helped them find the gold and silver flecks in their pans.

“There’s so much here to learn,” Jack said. “You can’t do these things everywhere.”

Richard added, “They’re learning about what life used to be like and what hard work everyone had to do.”

Cecily Robinson, a park volunteer, had three basins — one with a washboard, one with water and another with a mangle to wring out excess water — to teach attendees how difficult it was to wash laundry during the frontier days.

“This is like the Williamsburg of Las Vegas,” she said, referring to Colonial Williamsburg, Va. “Pioneer Day introduces kids to another world and broadens their scope.”

Contact Ann Friedman at or 702-380-4588. Find her on Twitter: @AnnFriedmanRJ.

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