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Mount Charleston’s accidental historian rescues the past

Casual visitors to Kyle Canyon would be forgiven for failing to notice the slim fellow in the green alpine hat as he takes his morning hike.

But in sunshine or snowstorm, he has been there, happily marking the miles at a pace that would leave most flatlanders gasping.

His name is Richard “Dick” Taylor. He’s the keeper of the mountain’s memories.

Taylor turned 81 on Monday. His doctors tell him this will be his last birthday. As the unabashed optimist doesn’t dwell on the negative, neither will I.

He says he didn’t set out to become Mount Charleston’s resident historian. It just sort of took to him like a friendly dog on one of his daily walks.

His mountain love affair began on the cusp of the 1960s when he worked for Hacienda casino owner Warren “Doc” Bailey, who bought the old lodge in upper Kyle Canyon and planned to develop a cabin resort community above the valley’s heat.

From drawing the plot maps to naming the streets, Taylor was on the scene. He was also present when Bailey’s widow, Judy Bailey, sold out to Howard Hughes’ men Robert Maheu and Jack Hooper, and their partner, show producer Frank Sennes. As with so many matters associated with Hughes, the mountain deal was riddled with intrigue. Taylor watched it unfold from the front row.

Decades passed, and his friends and family members were entertained by his encyclopedic knowledge of the area. He had witnessed history and had the proof.

“It was not a preplanned deal whatsoever,” Taylor says. “I think it occurred to me maybe 30 years after I was working on the development. I’m a packrat, and I would run across file folders of information. Seeing that the information was from so far in the past, and knowing that the town had changed so much, I was motivated to record it. Because if I didn’t record it, who would? Most of my peers of that era had already passed away. I think I was motivated more by a sense of responsibility to record what went on up here.”

His archiving and publishing project has filled six volumes. When academic historian Lisa Gioia-Acres began to research a Mount Charleston history project on behalf of the National Forest Service, she learned of Taylor and his collection.

“He became my source for all things Mount Charleston,” Gioia-Acres says. “His files are just chock full of news stories. Anything that has to do with the mountain he clipped it and saved it, and then eventually he published it. He gave me a personal tour of the mountain … that was the best part. He was able to point out landmarks at Mount Charleston that are completely obliterated now and was able to tell me the history of that place. That was really important to me. He is a historian/hobbyist, but sometimes those are the best kind.”

Taylor’s many files have been donated to various museums and historical societies. Today, his self-published volumes fill library and bookstore shelves.

Lately this sunny-spirited fellow, who was content to gather his history in near-anonymity, is being recognized for his contributions to a community that’s far better known for burying its past than preserving it. The Clark County Commission and City Council have lauded him in proclamations. Monday was Richard Taylor Day in Las Vegas.

Photographer/archivist Joseph Thomson says, “Dick has been relentless in his efforts to expose the hidden gems of our historic past, and it is exciting to see him get his due after years of lonely work on the trail of these little-known histories.”

“It makes me feel good that the history is recorded and is appreciated,” Taylor says.

For the keeper of the mountain’s memories, it’s a legacy sure to last many lifetimes.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.

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