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Wells Trailhead is named for actress of ‘Gilligan’s Island’ fame

Getting to the newly opened Wells Trailhead isn’t quite a three-hour tour, but it does involve miles of unmarked dirt roads. When you get there, it’s so remote that you might feel as if you’re marooned on a desert isle, which is appropriate because it’s named for Dawn Wells, who portrayed Mary Ann Summers on "Gilligan’s Island."

The actress has a deep connection to Nevada. She grew up in Reno and was Miss Nevada in 1959. She represented the state in the Miss America contest the following year.

Her father, Joe Wells, was a part-owner of the Thunderbird Casino, which was on the current site of the stalled Fontainebleau Resort project. He owned a popular restaurant at the Thunderbird, Joe’s Oyster Bar, and was instrumental in the addition of a horse track built behind the casino in 1961 that had thoroughbred and quarter horse racing. In the track’s three-year existence it was named Thunderbird Downs, Las Vegas Downs and finally Joe W. Brown Racetrack. Brown sold the track in 1964, and the Las Vegas Country Club was built there.

Wells was also one of the founders of Wells Cargo, which is still in operation with executive offices near Russell Road and the Las Vegas Beltway and facilities at 7770 Spring Mountain Road.

"It was started in 1935 by three brothers – Joe Wells, my grandfather Howard Wells Sr. and R.C. Wells," said current President and CEO Guy Wells. "We have contractors license number 273, the lowest-numbered active license in the state of Nevada."

Guy Wells, who took over the leadership of the company from his father Howdy Wells, said issues in the past led to a sour relationship among some family members, and as a result, he hasn’t kept in touch with his celebrity relative. However, he’s interested in visiting the trail that bears her name.

The trailhead is near the eastern end of the Clark County Wetlands Park. Elsie Sellars, the park’s coordinator, said the county purchased the 10-acre plot from the actress around a decade ago. The property had been severely damaged by erosion from the Las Vegas Wash.

Southern Nevada Water Authority engineering project manager Gerry Hester has been dealing with flood control and erosion issues in the area that is now the park since 1975.

"We offered to name a weir after her, but she saw how the weirs disappeared under vegetation and water and looked like a natural feature," Hester said. "She said that wasn’t any good because you couldn’t see it, so we went with the trailhead."

Ironically, the county uses rubble from demolished casinos, including the Thunderbird, as part of the weir construction process.

The trailhead includes a parking lot, restrooms and a trail that leads to the top of a small hill. The hill overlooks the Lower Narrows and Homestead weirs.

"When we started construction of the weirs, we came across the remains of the old Bishop Ranch Homestead," Hester said. "We halted construction for 18 months while the archaeologists worked the site."

The county rescued the only large remains of the homestead, a root cellar that is currently at the Clark County Heritage Museum awaiting installation as an exhibit. The spot where it was removed from is in the middle of the wash, just north of the hilltop overlook.

Getting to the trailhead isn’t exactly a walk in the park.

"You can get there in your car, but it’s going to get very dirty," Sellars said.

None of the dirt roads that lead to the park is well marked, and all involve driving in places that don’t look like you’re allowed to.

The trailhead can be reached from the east by dirt road off Lake Las Vegas Parkway in Henderson. It’s called Via Antincendio on maps, but there is no street sign. Both Pabco Road at the end of Sunset Road in Henderson and an unmarked dirt section of Russell Road south of the archery range near Old Silver Bowl Park lead there after a bit of finagling to the Pabco Trailhead, which is under construction. A soft sandy section of Russell Road presents a serious chance to get a vehicle stuck. Pabco Road is unmarked as it continues out of the northeast corner of the park to Wells Trailhead.

"When all of the weirs are completed, hopefully in 2015, a lot of our construction roads will become trails, and there will be a lot of changes in that part of the park and how it’s accessed," Hester said.

Whether Wells Trailhead will be easier to reach then or if it will remain a bit of an adventure has not yet been determined.

Dawn Wells could not be reached for comment. The release date for her latest project, the horror farce film "Silent but Deadly," has not been announced.

Contact Sunrise/Whitney View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at ataylor@viewnews.com or 702-380-4532.

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