Desert Survivors: Discover the toughest Mojave animal around during this live animal show, featuring a desert night snake, desert tortoise, kangaroo rat, California kingsnake, desert tarantula, gopher snake, chuckwalla, desert iguana, Western banded gecko, pocket gopher, banded Gila monster, desert hairy scorpion, vinegaroon and desert banded centipede. Shows take place twice daily at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. through September 2 in the Big Springs Theater.
Rainforest Adventure: Experience a multi-sensory expedition of the world's tropical rainforests daily June 2 through September 8, 2013 with hands-on exhibits such as a 9-foot kapok tree, a gorilla's nest and even a weaving loom.
Bet on the Farm: Every Thursday, shop a sustainable farmer's market from 10 a.m. - 1 p.m inside the Desert Living Center. The market includes fruits, vegetables, herbs, fresh eggs, honey, nuts, dates and locally roasted coffee, to name a few. Access is free.
Animals behind-the-scenes: Every Saturday and Sunday at noon inside the Origen museum, visitors can get up-close and personal with lizards, bugs and snakes with zoologists in the animal care area. Cost is $5 with paid general admission.
With the glittering lights and 24-hour action on the Las Vegas Strip, it’s easy to forget that the city is actually a hotbed of historical significance. It's also hard to imagine that the dry desert was once home to natural springs and abundant water.
Welcome to the Springs Preserve, the birthplace of fabulous Las Vegas. The 180-acre cultural and historic attraction sits on the site of those former springs, offering state-of-the-art exhibits, galleries, hiking trails, live animal shows and botanical gardens that teach visitors about the city’s rich heritage -- while also getting them to think about its future.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Springs Preserve is run by the Las Vegas Valley Water District, the agency that manages the city's water and promotes conservation. From recreation to education, the entire family will enjoy this respite from the hustle and bustle of the Strip.
Education about the past is a key component of the Springs Preserve and visitors can expand their knowledge at the Origen Experience. The museum teaches visitors about the springs' early inhabitants with three galleries, a traveling exhibit, theater, live animals, art projects and much more.
The Natural Mojave Gallery features interactive exhibits that explore the geological history of the Mojave Desert and the formation of the valley and springs. Kids can play with fossils, see how desert animals adapted and learn about erosion. A live-action flash flood demonstrates the danger of flooding in the valley as 5,000 gallons of recycled water comes crashing down every 20 minutes.
Guests will encounter a myriad of wildlife that calls the desert home with an exhibit of live animals including Gila monsters, lizards, bats, snakes, leopard frogs, desert cottontail rabbits, desert tortoises, spiders, a gray fox and more. All the animals are native to the Mojave and many are bred on site at the Springs Preserve.
The People of the Springs Gallery includes 33 exhibits focusing on the city's cultural history and development. Visitors can tour reconstructions of Native American dwellings complete with native plants, walk through a multimedia recreation of the 1905 Las Vegas land auction and view actual news footage from the construction of Hoover Dam. The arrival of the railroad, which put Las Vegas on the map, is marked with an explorable train car.
With today's challenge to find more water, several exhibits focus on water conservation, including one which shows the efficiency of local water conservation efforts. Despite a growth in population over the past 10 years, the city's water usage has decreased significantly.
Desert Living Center
The Desert Living Center is a complex of five buildings and 43 exhibits including a sustainability gallery, classroom and conference space. Exhibits, events and activities at the center demonstrate the benefits of recycling, conservation and alternative energy.
Here, visitors can see a model that shows the path water travels to reach residences and businesses, a "tower of trash" represents the amount of trash an average family accumulates in one month and a theater inside a real garbage truck wallpapered with recycled materials shows a film about trash and recycling. Guests can also play sustainable video games and view the exposed engine of a hybrid car to see how it works.
A model kitchen, bathroom, living room and laundry room demonstrates how you can save energy, water and money while keeping your home functional and attractive. The sustainable home utilizes energy-efficient appliances and features like bamboo flooring, cork tiles and low VOC paint. In the backyard, there is a cutaway of a drip irrigation system to help demonstrate sustainable landscaping.
The award-winning Gardens at the Springs Preserve is a great place to take a relaxing, outdoor stroll while learning about desert vegetation. The 8-acre garden area -- which is particularly vibrant in the spring -- features a wide range of desert landscapes and showcases native and non-native plant life with interpretive stations and hands-on activities.
The garden contains more than 1,200 species of native and desert-adapted plants and more than 400 trees and plants, including herbs, vegetables, roses, cactus, palms and more. The garden also includes spaces for instruction on irrigation, gardening and landscaping.
For those who enjoy hiking or biking, 3.65 miles of trails wind through the picturesque Springs Preserve and take visitors through both a cultural and environmental history of the Las Vegas valley. The trails lead to the Preserve's cienega, a desert wetland that serves as a home for hundreds of native plants, birds and animal species including peregrine falcons, snowy egrets and black-crowned night herons. A reconstructed cauldron pool depicts the natural springs that once existed beneath the valley. You will also see the original spring mound, which provided the city's main water source.
A historical, narrated train can carry up to 48 people on a 20-minute journey along the 2.2-mile Exploration Loop Trail. Rides are $5 for visitors who purchase admission. Railroad cottages representing the early settlement of Las Vegas are being restored on site and will eventually be part of the train route. Bike rentals are available on weekends and school holidays for $8 per hour.
Time to eat
The Springs Café isn't your ordinary dining experience. Operated by the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas, the restaurant offers healthy and delicious food choices, including a variety of vegetarian options. Guests can dine indoors or enjoy expansive views of the Strip and the Las Vegas valley from the patio.
Time to play
While the Springs Preserve offers numerous chances for kids to learn, it also offers them a place to play. A playground built to resemble a desert canyon with oversized wildlife replicas of a peregrine falcon, a wooly mammoth skeleton and a 50-foot snake are a favorite among the younger set.
Another area for children, dubbed the Nature Exchange, allows kids to find natural items and trade them in to learn more about them. Collectors gain points that can be used for trading for other items.
Other highlights at the Springs Preserve include an 1,800-seat outdoor amphitheater, a research library and a gift shop that offers unique books, toys and collectibles. Regular educational programming at the Springs Preserve includes classes on arts and crafts, cooking, cultural studies and sustainable living.
-- Review by Aleza Freeman & Kristine McKenzie