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Dip your tennis shoes into Las Vegas' new Springs Preserve.
Photo: Randa Bishop (above and below)
Imagine stepping into a cave with desert pallid bats or standing on a platform while watching a flash flood barrel through a desert canyon that, in its final push, sprays your unsuspecting tennis-shoed feet better than any Disney ride.
It’s all part of the experience at Las Vegas’ newest cultural attraction called Springs Preserve—180 acres of desert gardens, hiking trails, amphitheaters, museums, and playgrounds aimed at educating the public about life in the desert and the history of a city that started long before “Bugsy” Siegel came to town.
Visitors can weave their way through eight acres of drought-tolerant botanical gardens with plants from around the world or visit the live-animal exhibits with critters such as a desert gray fox, cottontail rabbits, scorpions, sidewinder rattlesnakes, and bats hanging around in their own cave. There’s also a Nature Exchange, where children bring artifacts they have collected and trade them for one of hundreds of natural specimens, ranging from preserved butterflies to fossils.
“The preserve has something that appeals to everyone: boys, girls, and adults. And you can see the history there,” says Dana Wallace of Las Vegas, who took her two children, ages four and seven, to the preserve on opening day. “What I really like is the Nature Exchange because it’s so unusual, and there are so many things to choose from.”
The preserve—the site where Las Vegas’ original inhabitants, including Paiute Indians, Spanish traders, and Mormon missionaries, settled because of the natural springs that once flowed in the area—also sheds light on the city’s human history. Guests can wander through a replica Native American village strewn with huts made from bent willow branches and tethered arrowweed.
You also can step inside a railroad car from the 1900s as it churns through the Mojave.
The Desert Living Center includes buildings constructed of “green” materials, such as straw bales, packed earth, and recycled steel and wood. Demonstration areas are devoted to reusable energy and conservation. The preserve, which uses 2.4 acres of solar panels and recycles its own water, is receiving national recognition for its building techniques and eventually will be able to produce most of its own energy, says Jesse Davis, marketing and public relations manager for the attraction.
Anything but stuffy, the preserve also boasts an IMAX-style theater, which shows Miracle in the Mojave, and the New Frontier gallery with dozens of educational video games. Kids like the 14,000-square-foot playground with a giant falcon perched on the surrounding faux canyon walls and a 50-foot rattlesnake to climb on.
Children and adults alike will be thrilled by the Flash Flood Experience—a seemingly innocuous slice of desert is pounded by real rushing waters.
Plans include a spring and fall concert series for the outdoor theater (Jewel played at the grand opening in June) and, of course, what would a Vegas attraction be without a Wolfgang Puck restaurant?
“What’s really hard to convey is just how fun this is for visitors,” Davis says. “Everything is done so well in a fun and interactive manner. You just have to come see for yourself.”
To celebrate its first year, the Springs Preserve will host an all-you-can-eat ice cream festival on June 8, 2008, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Activities will include live music by Killian’s Angels and the Pickadillos, performances by Sharon Lynn’s Celtic Storm Dancers, plus behind-the-scenes tours of the Springs Preserve’s award-winning architecture. Tickets are $6 and include admission to the museums and galleries.
333 S. Valley View Blvd.
10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily