If you're thinking of taking the kids out for the day at the Springs Preserve, want to brush up on your Silver State history or if you're simply a fan of old-school Vegas, then a trip to the Nevada State Museum is the spot to see and do all of the above.
The Nevada State Museum relocated from Lorenzi Park and opened on the Springs Preserve property in October 2011. The two-level, 70,000-square-foot building is now closer to the Strip (about 15 minutes) and is twice the size of its old location. According to a museum tour guide, visitors to the museum have stayed as short as 15 minutes and as long as nine hours.
The museum features a 13,000-square-foot gallery with permanent exhibits, a research library, a gift shop, lecture rooms and a banquet hall, complete with a spacious outdoor balcony overlooking the Springs Preserve and the Strip. It is divided into two sections -- its permanent fixtures and a rotating exhibit, which changes every few months.
The museums permanent exhibit takes you through Nevada's geology, fossil and desert wildlife, as well as mining and railroad history. One section of note covers the Great Basin (the desert covering central and Northern Nevada, and parts of Utah, California, Oregon and Wyoming) from dusk to dawn. It features low level dusk-like lighting and the sounds of desert animals (as well as specimens) -- like the great horned owl, cougar and Mojave rattlesnake -- to set the mood. It's a whole new level of Vegas nightlife!
Another standout is the skeletal replica of Nevada's state fossil, the ichthyosaur. This reptile swam in the seas of Central Nevada 225 million years ago and measured 48 feet long. Nearby, you can view real fossil bones and take a closer peek at other fossil findings with a magnifying glass -- it's science class all over again.
Speaking of school, for those who loved learning about the Oregon Trail, the museum also offers an interactive travel game by testing your surviving skills in Old Nevada. The game is part of a larger section on Nevada settlers, highlighted by a nearby covered wagon and makeshift campfire.
Walk inside a nearby cave and learn about the importance of mining to early settlers -- even see examples of fluorescent minerals. Outside the cave, you can explore the tools and technology of the mining profession and learn how precious metals like silver, gold and copper are formed. From there you will learn about the boom time of the railway, the formation of the Nevada government and the construction of Hoover Dam. The museum also offers extensive teachings and interactive exhibits on early Native American inhabitants of Nevada.
As you learn about the state's history in more modern times, you'll see an interactive Nevada nuclear test site section, World War II history, the "real" truth about Bugsy Siegel and the Flamingo hotel, a Las Vegas timeline from 1905 to today and much more. The museum even showcases items sealed in the home of Las Vegas mogul Howard Hughes after his death in 1976, like Grape Nuts cereal boxes, a brown sugar package and other household staples.
Old slot machines, neon signs, and trinkets like a $25,000 poker chip from the old Dunes hotel (imploded in 1994) will make you nostalgic for vintage Vegas. At the entrance to the museum you can stand next to a 1911 Desert Love Buggy, considered one of the most popular cars to cruise Fremont Street. Used mainly for promotional purposes, it made its first appearance in a parade in 1939, with its last one in 1994.
Another fantastic piece of vintage Vegas is one of the most brilliant displays of showgirl costumes through the ages. Lining a large pink sequined wall, the costumes and headpieces are encased behind oval cut-out glass windows. It's rare visitors get to see such elaborate, colorful costumes up close.
On the other half of the exhibit space, the "changing" gallery rotates every three to four months and includes a variety of Nevada art work.
If you're a real history buff, the museum includes a research library. You'll find Northern and Southern Nevada periodicals from 1905 to present day. The research library also includes files of all Nevada births, marriages and deaths from the early 1900s.
After you're finished, there's an extensive gift shop with all sorts of fun trinkets, art, jewelry, stuffed animals and more.