At one time, Tule Springs was easily identifiable as a large patch of green in the middle of the desert just off US95.
Today, it’s a little harder to find, but well worth the effort.
My son and I spent an afternoon there about a month ago.
“When I was a kid, we used to come out here for field trips,” I told my kid as we were driving there, right after we passed a strip mall with a grocery store and a gas station. “None of this was here.”
“'Back in my day,'” he replied, imitating the voice of a 300-year-old person.
Fortunately, there’s plenty of signage to point you to Floyd Lamb Park at Tule Springs (its official name). Otherwise, I don’t know how I’d find it since the housing developments hide it from view.
I decided to head out to Tule Springs primarily to use it as a backdrop for some portrait shots, but also to explore the grounds. The last time my son had seen Tule Springs, he was this size. (He’s the short one.)
My son just turned 18 recently. Here he is, having a stare-down with a goose in about the same area.
The area of Tule Springs has been around for literal ages. It includes the designated park that bears the name Tule Springs, as well as the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument, which is full of Ice Age fossils and includes the Upper Las Vegas Wash.
Water in the desert is a rare and beautiful thing. For centuries, people and animals were drawn to the numerous springs in Southern Nevada. Tule Springs was one of those areas.
Flash forward to the 1940s, and Tule Springs Ranch (which later became the park) was a divorce ranch. Nevada had only a six-week residency law for divorce, which was the shortest residency requirement in the nation at that time. If you had big bucks to spend on your divorce, you could get in some horseback riding and fishing while you waited for the time to pass. It was also a working ranch.
By the time I was a school kid, the buildings had long since become “historic,” and the grounds had become a city park. The property and buildings were officially listed on the United States National Register of Historic Places in 1981.
The geese and peacocks are a defining feature here, and they’re brave. We were stalked by a group of geese I dubbed “The Tule Springs Welcoming Committee.” This group of avian panhandlers never gave up hope we would feed them.
We also spotted a pelican. “Look, a pelican,” I said when I first saw him paddling toward us.
“We don’t have pelicans in the desert,” my son automatically responded, but he hadn’t seen the bird yet.
“Well, that’s a pelican,” I pointed out.
“Yup... that is a pelican,” he agreed when he spotted the bird. Mr. Pelican was floating close to the shore, clearly eyeballing us to evaluate the likelihood we would feed him.
The second time we encountered the pelican, he was brazenly cozying up to some people at a picnic table. When my son and I walked by, we were apparently too close for comfort. He abruptly spread his big wings and took to flight, almost grazing my son’s head as he circled over the pond, landing just ahead of us on what appeared to be one of his favorite picnic tables, judging by the pelican droppings.
The people Mr. Pelican had been so friendly with said, “The rangers told us they don’t know where he came from.” However he arrived, Tule Springs seems like a good place for him, all things considered.
Fishing ponds dot the grounds, and there are plenty of places to picnic and enjoy the greenery. The historic buildings and accompanying placards give a wonderful idea of what living in Las Vegas was once like.
It creates an odd dissonance for me to see Tule Springs surrounded by houses. But it’s reassuring to walk through the park, much of which remains unchanged from what I remember from my grade-school years. And it’s always a treat to be able to share something with my son that’s relatively unchanged from my childhood--a rarity for Las Vegas natives.
In this city, things change quickly. A timeless place like Tule Springs is treasure, and I’m glad we have it.
Have you been to Tule Springs?
All pictures by Terrisa Meeks (you can see more pics of my day at Tule Springs on fickr)