Don’t you just love spring? Unfortunately, in Las Vegas, this blissfully beautiful season tends to be short-lived. When the cold weather recedes, the mercury begins a relentless upward march – not as brutal as General Sherman’s to Columbia, S.C., for Sin City won’t be set ablaze…but by May you’ll find your skin literally burns in the hot, hot sun. So while things are moderate in March and April, make the most of the great outdoors. You should get out of the smoky casinos to breathe in some fresh air anyway.
Here’s a list of five things to do – in and around Las Vegas – that make the most of nature’s splendor. And, would you believe, they all have the word “spring” in their names!
1. Explore the Gardens at the Springs Preserve.
The Springs Preserve is a 180-acre attraction designed to pay tribute to Vegas’ pre-Vegas days as well as to provide environmental awareness. Along with museums and galleries, there are eight acres of botanical gardens. And while you might expect desert plants to be bland and boring, these are anything but. Here you’ll discover cacti full of color and character. In addition, there’s a palm oasis, a rose garden and areas for herbs and vegetables. Classes in desert gardening are offered in case you want to till your own soil. Those interested in further exploration can stroll on the interpretive trail system that winds through the stunning wetland habitat and past its archeological sites. Boasting nearly two miles of walking paths, you can follow in the footsteps of the city’s earliest inhabitants. The Springs Preserve is located a few minutes west of downtown Las Vegas at 333 S. Valley View Blvd. and open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call 702-822-7700.
2. Pet a donkey or feed a duck at Bonnie Springs Ranch.
Originally built in 1843, Bonnie Springs Ranch offers visitors a variety of fun outdoor activities as well as a look at what life was like in an Old West town. Poke around the buildings, which are authentic replicas of those that would be found in an 1880s mining town. Watch dramatic cowboy shows, gunfights and mock hangings. Check out the petting zoo, which is home to both exotic animals like wolves (not to be touched) and more affable critters like donkeys (very touchable). There is even a large pond filled with ducks that beg to be fed. In addition, you can take a train ride and taste real country cooking – barbecue chicken and ribs – at the on-site restaurant. Bonnie Springs Ranch is located about 30 minutes from the Strip in Blue Diamond at 16935 Bonnie Springs Road. It’s open daily until 5 p.m. Call 702-875-4191.
3. Hike to hot springs near Lake Mead.
Geothermal activity is abundant in Southern Nevada. This means the Las Vegas area is home to loads of hot springs. Early settlers used them for swimming, bathing and healing. Today, you can enjoy them too. Several are located close to Lake Mead on lands administered by the National Park Service. There are four hot springs situated below Hoover Dam, all accessible by foot. Just off the North Shore Road, between Echo Bay and Overton, is Rogers Spring. It’s a shallow pool that overflows into a small waterfall – a perfect spot to relax and soak away your aches and pains. A few miles north, near Stewart’s Point, is Blue Point Spring. It’s smaller than Rogers Spring, but the water here is very warm. For more specific directions to these and other hot springs, stop by the Lake Mead Visitor Center in Boulder City at 601 Nevada Way. Call 702-293-8990.
4. Have a picnic at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park.
Spring Mountain Ranch State Park sits at an elevation of 3,800 feet beneath the rugged Wilson Cliffs. Early settlers got their water from the many springs found in the area. Originally, in 1876, it was made into a working ranch, known as Sandstone Ranch. Years later the area became a luxury retreat for a string of famous owners including Chester Lauck of the comedy team Lum & Abner, German actress Vera Krupp and billionaire Howard Hughes. You can lay out your afternoon feast on one of many tree-shaded picnic tables that all offer scenic views. While you’re there, you should also explore some of the park’s historical sites like the ranch house, the Wilson Cemetery, the Sandstone Cabin and the blacksmith’s shop. Spring Mountain Ranch State Park is located about 15 miles west of Las Vegas via Charleston Boulevard. A fee of $9 is charged to enter the park. Call 702-875-4141.
5. Ride a horse at Red Spring in Red Rock Canyon.
Located in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is a somewhat sheltered and moist area called Calico Basin. One of the springs that feeds it is Red Spring, which rests beneath striking red sandstone cliffs. A unique way to take in the region’s spectacular vistas is on horseback. Cowboy Trail Rides features an excursion to Red Spring on well-trained mounts and with a wrangler who imparts true western hospitality. Along with views of the Spring Mountains, you’ll spot Joshua trees, yuccas and even wild burros. The ride lasts 90 minutes and is offered twice daily at 8 a.m. and noon. The cost is $99. Cowboy Trail Rides is located eight miles west of Red Rock Casino, Resort & Spa at a big dirt parking lot marked with a “Horseback Riding” sign. Call 702-387-2457.
Tip: Whenever you spend an extended amount of time outside in Las Vegas, be sure bring lots of water with you. A hat, sunscreen and comfortable walking shoes are three other good things to put on your checklist that won’t ruin your sense of freedom in the magnificent outdoors.