Las Vegas is a world-class destination, known for superlative resorts and awe-inspiring shows, shopping and exhibits. But there is another side to the city—the natural world. You may not know it, but Las Vegas also features attractions that celebrate the abundant beauty of our desert landscape. Visit one of these child-friendly attractions and your family will never think of the desert as barren again.
Do you know how Las Vegas got its name? Ever wonder how animals and plants can survive in the harsh environment of the Mojave desert? Are you and your family curious to explore the history of the Valley, from early Native American settlements to Old West explorers and spend some time outdoors?
Just a few miles from the Strip is a hidden gem that holds some of the rich history of Nevada. Named the "Best Family Attraction" by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Springs Preserve showcases the natural beauty of the desert, with activities and exhibits to delight people of all ages, all without leaving the city!
The Springs Preserve, located at 333 S. Valley View, approximately two miles west of downtown Las Vegas, was founded in 2007, and is one of the top family-friendly attractions in the Valley. From a farmer's market every Thursday to craft-making activities on the weekends, the entire family will enjoy the Springs Preserve. Explore the 3.65 miles of trails of native plants and archaeological sites. Enjoy lunch or snacks at the Springs Café, and take in the Nevada State Museum, housed within the Springs Preserve. The Museum showcases the history of Nevada and its early people, a history that goes back more than 1000 years.
The site is located at the original site of the Las Vegas Springs, where early settlers and nomadic tribes, including the Pueblo, Patayan and Numa, collected water. It was early Spanish explorers of the mid-1800s who named the Valley “Las Vegas," meaning “the meadows" because of the natural beauty of the springs. The site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
The Preserve has several new events and offerings to kick off 2012. Now through May, your family can explore the mysteries of space as well as those of the desert at Springs Preserve. Housed in the Origen Museum and open during regular hours, “SPACE: A Journey to Our Future" is an interactive exhibit where visitors can check their moon weight, touch a real lunar rock and discover other interstellar surprises!
Also for 2012, the Preserve has a new bike-rental program as an alternate way to traverseits trails. Your entire family can rent bicycles and helmets and enjoy the ride past rare plants and indigenous wildlife, archaeological digs of pithouses, and fantastic bird watching. Bike rental is $8 per hour and helmets are required for children under 12.
The Springs Preserve is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets are available for advance purchase online, www.springspreserve.org, or at the gate. Annual memberships are also offered; they are a great idea if you are a frequent visitor to Las Vegas.
The entire family can enjoy annual seasonal activities and events throughout the year, including:
• Black History Month Festival, February
• Dia del Nino Festival, April
• all-you-can-eat Ice Cream Festival, May
• Asian Harvest Moon Festival, beginning of Autumn
• Haunted Harvest, October
• Dia de Muertos, November
• Holiday Spectacular, December
Seasonal events offer special themes, treats, and activities.
Las Vegas Zoo
Looking for even morewildlife and adventure in town? Not far from The Springs Preserve, and 15 minutes NW of the Strip is the only zoo in Las Vegas, and the only year-round zoo in Nevada, the Southern Nevada Zoological-Botanical Park. Located on three acres at 1775 N. Rancho and open daily from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., the Zoo (known as the Las Vegas Zoo) features 150 species of plants and animals. You and your family can view various species of endangered cats, chimpanzees, ostriches, flamingoes, parrots, and the last family of Barbary Apes in the United States. Coupons and directions are available on their website (www.lasvegaszoo.com), and groups are welcome.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
For families with older children, who are perhaps more adventurous or yearn to breathe the open air for a day, a day trip to the Red Rock Canyon may be in order. Located several miles west of Las Vegas, yet still within view of the magnificence of the views of the Strip, few attractions in Las Vegas are as majestic and breathtaking as Red Rock.
The Canyon's namesake, rust-tinted sandstone rocks, are easily seen from miles away, and visitors can explore the canyon close-up in several ways. During the hot summer months, you can use the 13-mile paved loop that circles the more than 195 thousand acres that make up the Conservation Area. Rock climbing and bicycling are other exciting ways to traverse the Canyon. The most common way to see the canyon is via one of 19 hiking trails. Free guided hikes are available by signing up at the visitor's center, or you can choose a trail that suits your experience. The trails vary in both difficulty (beginner, intermediate, and advanced) and distance, to suit visitors young and old alike.
The wildlife of the Mojave and surrounding mountains is diverse. Among the Joshua trees and Yuccas you may see a roadrunner, desert tortoise, bighorn sheep, or even a tarantula or hummingbird!
Enjoying Red Rock can be done as a quick day trip, or you and your family may choose to stay a few nights in the peace and quiet. The canyon houses one campsite, which is open Sept.-May, for both tents and recreational vehicles, and welcomes groups large and small. Hiking trails and the driving loop are open 6 a.m. until dusk throughout the year. Who knew the desert could hold so much life and beauty? For more information, including useful tips for your hike and seasonal weather reports, visit www.redrockcanyonlv.org.