In the neon haze of Las Vegas’s infamous Strip, it’s easy to forget the reason for the Capital of Excess’s birth (hint: it has nothing to do with blackjack or free margaritas). An oasis amid an expanse of barren desert, Vegas was once home to natural bubbling springs that sustained the area’s Native Americans, vagabonds traveling on the Old Spanish Trail, and Mormons settling the region.
Just three miles west of downtown—and seemingly worlds away from the “what-happens-in-Vegas-stays-in-Vegas” crowd—sits the Springs Preserve, a 180-acre spot of land on the site of the original oasis that offers a decidedly more authentic take on the Vegas experience.
The part-indoors, part-outdoors cultural and historical park made its debut last June and has since been likened to New York’s Central Park, with eight acres of colorful botanical gardens, four nature trails, restored wetlands, live desert wildlife exhibits, a kid’s play zone, a 2,000-seat amphitheater, and, perhaps most significantly, nary a casino.
To our delight, Springs Preserve is home to Nevada’s first platinum LEED buildings. The five-building campus, called the Desert Living Center, is flush with educational galleries like “Compost Crawl” and “Smart Shopper.” And refreshingly, the preserve’s Origen Experience addresses the effects of Vegas’s manic growth on the environment. The green mantra extends to include carpet constructed from recycled soda bottles, ponds filled with on-site wastewater, sustainable lumber, and straw-bale and rammed earth walls.
Not to say Springs Preserve doesn’t sneak a few Vegas touches into the mix: Kid-friendly slot machines play educational videos when the symbols align, and one of its most popular exhibits feels more thrill ride than stodgy museum, evoking the thundering effects of a flash flood with 5,000 gallons of recycled water rushing through a desert ravine-like room.
Plus, in celebration of its first birthday on June 8, Springs Preserve will host an All-You-Can-Eat Ice Cream Festival—precisely the sort of excess we can get behind.
The Springs Preserve is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission charged to museums and galleries. The one-year anniversary celebration will take place Sunday, June 8, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (admission $6) and will also include live music, dance performances, and behind-the-scenes architecture tours.
Photo: courtesy of Springs Preserve