Visiting paleontologists tour Upper Las Vegas Wash sites

The Upper Las Vegas Wash, about 23,000 acres of land confirmed to have fossils from 200,000 years ago, was center stage of an international meeting of paleontological minds this month.

About 40 researchers and students toured approximately six sites in Centennial Hills and North Las Vegas during the international conference of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Oct. 31 through Nov. 4.

An estimated 1,400 paleontology professionals gathered at Paris Las Vegas, 3655 Las Vegas Blvd., for the conference. The main topic of discussion was how spring deposits, or former water sources, related to vertebrate animals of the time.

It was the first time the group’s annual meeting was hosted in Las Vegas and the first time local experts were able to present research being conducted in Southern Nevada, University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor of geology Stephen Rowland said.

Rowland traveled on field trips to eastern California, Pahrump Valley, near Beatty and six Upper Las Vegas Wash sites during the conference. He hosted a tour of the Gilcrease Nature Sanctuary, 8103 Racel St., where owner Bill Gilcrease discovered the lower molar of a Colombian mammoth on a northeast corner of his land in the early 1960s.

Scientists excavated the land in the 1962-63 dig and found teeth from camels, horses and Colombian mammoths that probably fell into and died in spring mounds on the land. They probably lived during periods of drastic climate change.

The fossils were almost discarded, but Gilcrease hid them in an effort to preserve the history, said Helen Mortenson, president of the Las Vegas Ice Age Park Foundation and treasurer of the Gilcrease Nature Sanctuary’s board of directors.

Gilcrease greeted the group during the recent field trip.

“The man is 92, and because of him, these fossils were saved,” Mortenson said.

Mortenson showed the group emu and ostrich eggs from birds at the sanctuary and made a presentation about the animals and dinosaurs.

She also showed casts made from the fossils excavated from the land.

Rowland participated in an early 1990s dig in which more specimens were unearthed. He and his graduate students continue to study the parcel of land.

Rowland showed the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology a former spring deposit he studied.

“It’s a subtle thing to the general public, but it’s significant for geologists and paleontologists,” he said. “UNLV has not been a very high-profile player in invertebrate technology. This was a good opportunity for me and my grad students to show off what we’ve been working on.”

Rowland and Mortenson are part of a charge to help distinguish the Upper Las Vegas Wash as a national monument and future home of the Ice Age Park of Southern Nevada, a proposed tourist destination, research facility and home to the thousands of fossils already discovered here.

Currently, paleontological finds in Southern Nevada are sent and housed in a repository in San Bernardino, Calif., as per federal archival law. The Ice Age Park of Southern Nevada would have facilities to keep the fossils local.

Rowland discussed the intent of experts such as himself and advocates such as the Protectors of Tule Springs during the recent tour.

“Everybody on the trip was really impressed that it’s real national monument terrain,” Rowland said. “There is a potential here.”

For more information on the society, visit

For more information on the Protectors of Tule Springs, visit or call 876-6944.

Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter Maggie Lillis at or 477-3839.

News Headlines
Local Spotlight
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like