Springs Preserve

Located three miles west of downtown Las Vegas, the artesian springs which once nourished fragile plant and animal life also brought human civilization to the valley nearly 5,000 years ago. Las Vegas, named by 19th century Spanish traders, translates to “the Meadows.” The water from the springs sustained the earliest nomadic Native Americans, fed ranches and attracted railroads through the valley as the city of Las Vegas pushed skyward through the earth around it.

The site of the original springs — Little Spring, Middle Spring and Big Spring, which fed Las Vegas Creek through downtown — has remained relatively untouched. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1978, the 180-acre tract of land is administered by the Las Vegas Valley Water District, which manages Las Vegas’ water resources and promotes water conservation. After many years of planning, the water district, which created the popular Desert Demonstration Gardens, has moved the gardens into the new $250 million Springs Preserve, adding attractions including an amphitheater, restaurant and, coming in 2009, an all-new Nevada State Museum, placing a public forum of Las Vegas history where it all began:

500 A.D.

Basketmaker Peoples: The origin of the name “Basketmaker” was a result of research by Richard Wetherill, an informally trained archaeologist. In an 1893 excavation, Wetherill found the remains of an ancient people together with woven artifacts and large numbers of baskets in the slickrock country of southeastern Utah. These nomadic peoples were given the name Basketmakers.

500 – 1150 A.D.

Pueblo Indians: The same archaeological survey which discovered artifacts of Basketmakers revealed that the Las Vegas Springs site was a major outlying camp for the Pueblos when they inhabited Moapa Valley 50 miles to the east.

1200 – 1850

Paiute Indians: Pottery and tool remains found on the site indicate the Southern Paiutes occupied the springs site on a temporary basis over a long period.

1830 – 1848

Spanish trading caravans (Spanish Trail): A pack mule commercial trail was broken between Santa Fe, N.M., and Los Angeles around 1830. It is believed that Spanish explorer Father Escalante roughly followed this route as did Jedediah Smith. Antonio Armigo led the first commercial caravan along the trail. The Mexican War ended the Spanish use of the trail in 1848 and it became known as the Mormon Trail, with a branch that led to Salt Lake City.


Government Exploring Expedition: John C. Fremont stopped at the springs during his second expedition in May of 1844 on his return from California.


Way station: A way station was established at the springs in 1851 on the mail route between northern Utah and San Bernardino, Calif.


Mormon mining, colonization and missionary expeditions: In 1855, Brigham Young dispatched a group of Mormon missionaries to colonize a settlement in the valley and conduct mission work among the Paiutes. A small adobe fort was built along the Las Vegas Creek about three miles below the springs and fortified with a wall. Crops were planted adjacent to the Las Vegas Creek. Lead mining was initiated at what is now Mount Potosi to the southwest. The mission lasted only three years.


Fort Baker: Three years after abandonment by the Mormon missionaries, the Army named the adobe building site “Fort Baker” in anticipation of stationing troops there. No troops were ever garrisoned at the fort, however.

Late 1860s, 1882, 1882-1905

Historic ranches: In the late 1860s the abandoned colony site was operated as a ranch. Octavious D. Gass acquired the site and maintained a ranch (Las Vegas Rancho) until 1882, when he sold it to Archibald Stewart. Stewart was killed in 1883 and his widow, Helen J. Stewart, operated the ranch until 1903. She sold 1,864 acres to William Clark’s San Pedro-Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad Co.


A railroad division point: In mid-October 1904, Utah Construction Co. gangs completed rail construction to Las Vegas, giving Las Vegas a rail connection to the east.

1905 – present

Las Vegas town site: An auction of surveyed properties was held on May 15 and May 16, 1905, marking the birth of present day Las Vegas. A tent city sprang up, followed by more permanent buildings. Construction of Hoover Dam in the 1930s gave real impetus to Las Vegas’ growth.

Additional growth was created by the Basic Magnesium plant in the 1940s and a wartime measure followed by the expansion of gaming in the 1950s and 1960s.

The creation of new megaresorts and communities like Summerlin has made Las Vegas one of the fastest growing cities in the United States.

SOURCES: United States Department of the Interior, Las Vegas Valley Water District, Brigham Young University

Attraction features and amenities:

Desert Living Center

The center will provide a forum where visitors can learn practical means of protecting valuable environmental resources without compromising their quality of life. The complex of five buildings includes the Sustainability Gallery, Dialogue Center, design lab and technical training center, ticketing area, general classroom and conference space, and the 300-seat Gardens Amphitheater.

Guest Services

Components of Guest Services include a restaurant overlooking the Las Vegas Strip located on the second level of the Guest Services building, and the preserve gift store featuring items that capture Las Vegas history. A ticket and information center completes Guest Services.

Nevada State Museum

This long-standing Las Vegas community attraction will be relocated to the preserve to become an integral part of the visitor experience. The museum will remain an independent facility operated by the state of Nevada and will help to provide a more complete historical experience for visitors. The museum is scheduled to open in 2009.

Open-air amphitheater

An 1,800-seat outdoor amphitheater at the center of the preserve will present seasonal concerts under the stars and feature an eclectic mix of theater and music.

ORI-GEN Experience

Comprised of two historic museum galleries, a children’s gallery and an indoor theater, the ORI-GEN Experience is designed to capture the essence of land and early inhabitants who made the preserve their home.

Orientation Plaza

The Orientation Plaza is the first stop for many visitors, with the tiered outdoor seating allowing a place for schools and tour groups to gather to be briefed on the preserve before beginning tours.

The Cienega

A picturesque cienega, or desert wetland, will border the trails serving as a home for hundreds of native plant, bird and animal species. A reconstructed cauldron pool will depict the natural springs that once bubbled from the valley floor.

The Commons

This area will serve as the central hub for the preserve featuring the trailhead, open air amphitheater and children’s learning playground that resembles a desert canyon.

The Gardens

Similar to the successful Desert Demonstration Gardens once operated to the south of the property, 8 acres of botanical gardens will promote a greater understanding of native, drought tolerant plants in landscaping, while emphasizing responsible water use in the desert. The Gardens will feature outdoor classroom instruction areas, cooking demonstrations, and an enabling garden for people with physical challenges, among other elements.

The Trails

This scenic component of approximately 2 1/2 miles of walking trails and interpretive overlooks will be left largely undeveloped due to the abundance of significant historical and archaeological resources in these areas. Being constructed in two phases, the second phase will be completed in 2008.

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