Las Vegas history springs to life on desert trails

A reminder that visitors are in Southern Nevada — for better or worse, a place that’s unique in the world — begins as soon as they start walking into the Springs Preserve. The entrance path just off the parking areas represents a ravine.

And not just any ravine. Jesse Davis, spokesman for the preserve, said it was created with the use of molds taken at Valley of Fire State Park, northeast of Las Vegas.

“It’s the closest you can get without being there,” Davis said.

The path passes art representing desert flora and fauna. The sculptures are inscribed with names, part of the donor-recognition program at the preserve. Other donor recognition is in the form of giant metal cattails, huge floating stone spheres and other items.

While the ravine pathway is both symbolic and novel, the natural environmental aspects of the Springs Preserve are best reached by the network of hiking trails, which can be accessed without paying an admission fee.

The system, which begins in the commons area near the amphitheater, will encompass 1 1/2 miles of trails when the preserve opens Friday, and 2 1/2 miles when the Nevada State Museum arrives on-site in spring 2009.

Davis said the system is designed with 16 informational stops, including one at the springheads in the northwest corner of the property, near its border with U.S. Highway 95. That is the site of Big, Middle and Little Springs, which were responsible for creating the desert oasis that would grow into a city, and the meadows that gave Las Vegas its name. The natural springs now are depicted by a cauldron pool.

One of the property’s historic structures is there, a well house that Davis said is a “very humble log structure that sort of looks like a barn.”

Other such structures are a few original well derricks. Davis noted that the derrick has become the icon of the preserve.

Interpretive ramadas, open-sided shelters, will provide information about various aspects of the preserve property.

But the natural aspects of the trail system are expected to hold even more appeal for visitors. The Cienega, spring-fed wetlands, that the trails border has hundreds of native plant and wildlife species. Davis said a flock of snowy egrets had been spotted there recently.

The old Desert Demonstration Gardens on Alta Drive has been transformed into 8 acres of botanical gardens at the preserve. In addition to depicting landscapes designed to showcase native, drought-tolerant plants, the gardens include an outdoor classroom, enabling garden for disabled people, an outdoor kitchen and a working weather station.

Nearby is a children’s play area that evokes a desert canyon, complete with a kid-friendly sidewinder. Like the trail system, the botanical gardens and playground can be accessed without an admission fee.

The property encompasses 180 acres, about three-quarters of which is accessible to the public. Davis said some areas are closed because of the presence of endangered species and others because of the operations of the water district.

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