You’d think that in Las Vegas, “ancient” means that something was either built 40 years ago or imploded 15 years ago.
Let’s get this out of the way: Yes, this town does have a reputation for blowing up what’s old, putting something new over it, and only on occasion saving some of its history. But just like there’s more to Vegas than merely the Strip, there’s more to attempts to preserve this area’s history – and prehistory – than meets the eye.
Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the unveiling of a significant fossil find — an intact mammoth tusk found in an area of the Upper Las Vegas Wash, located near North Las Vegas.
As if it wasn’t cool enough to see this tusk peeking out of the ground, I learned that this region’s fossil record goes back as far as 200,000 years – for comparison, the world-famous La Brea tar pits, located just a few hours away in Los Angeles, has some better-preserved organisms but the record only goes back about 40,000. There’s a lot to be learned going back 200,000 years.
See, this area wasn’t always a desert. In fact, it has gone through many climate changes throughout history—this whole area was covered by the sea once, Nevada’s state fossil (yes, we have a state fossil) is the Ichthyosaur, since the only complete Ichthyosaur skeleton in the U.S. was found here.
In more recent history – relatively speaking, since we’re still talking about thousands of years before the advent of keno and the all-you-can-eat-buffet – this area was full of giant prehistoric bison, mammoths, camelops, giant sloths, ancient horses and other fascinating creatures.
If the area’s past doesn’t excite you, then its future might. There is a movement to preserve 23,000 acres of the area and the proposed Tule Springs National Monument could become a one-of-a-kind tourist destination, featuring, among other things:
- A world-class scientific research institute where visitors can watch scientists at work.
- An architecturally beautiful Visitor Center filled with fossil displays, interactive exhibits and video productions.
- A field area where adults and children can explore using new technology to simulate paleontology discovery.
- Hiking trails with shaded facilities and signage through the desert and wetlands ecosystem.
- Escorted tours to mammoth, camel and bison sites.
- Integration with other destinations: Floyd Lamb Park and the Desert National Wildlife Refuge.
If that doesn’t excite your inner paleontologist (am I the only one with an inner paleontologist?), then I don’t know what would.
If you’re in Vegas now and this seems to be the kind of thing that would interest you, be sure to visit The Nevada State Museum, The Springs Preserve or The Las Vegas Museum of Natural History in the meantime.