While the Kenneth Watrous family likes to escape Las Vegas and go camping or such, sometimes, we stick closer to home. Started as a watering hole oasis in the desert, this location 15 or so miles outside of Las Vegas is one of my favorite local(ish) State Parks. It has a mixture of modern and older feels and is both a testament to the people who founded the area, and the modern ingenuity we have. Water conservation is a big part of the West and Las Vegas does a better job than nearly any other city in using water well. Spring Mountain is, as the name implies, a mountain near a collection of springs. This natural oasis attracted travelers and settlers in the days before irrigation, canals, and dams helped move and control sections of the water table to better help the people.
In the early days the ranch was built on the same area that the Paiute and mountain men used as rest areas and watering holes. Then a ranch was built on it, which later became a retreat. What is interesting about all of this history is that the Park is dedicated to teaching and maintaining this rural outpost to educate about a more primitive time in the state’s history where it was necessary to work with the land to have any hope in the harsh desert conditions.
As a place to bring children it has the advantage of being outside, so there can be some running around and seeing trees and livestock and so on. And it is educational so you get that level of importance brought in. As someone who enjoys being outdoors and exploring and using the outdoors as a place to both have fun, relax, and build on who I am, I like to take the family out to areas that instill some of those same values and ideas.
For the most part the park is about watching the landscape and walking through the main ranch house and observing the areas. It is a passive experience so it can be important to keep the kids occupied and not let them get too ramped up before they enter, or they will get bored easily.
In the outdoors areas there are plenty of diverse trees, bushes, flowers, and animals to check out. The animals are mostly desert dwellers so they are more easily seen later in the day or early in the morning when they are wandering around in the cooler air. The park has some strict rules about going off-road or outside of designated areas. This limits some of the species contact that you can expect, but it also helps to ensure the preservation of the areas and the safety of the visitors.
Hiking trails can be found throughout and they offer great views of a lot of different species of tree and flower, and some occasional larger and smaller animals. It is easier to catch a few squirrels running around or maybe, if you hike up enough, a bighorn sheep. These are animals that don’t tend to hide as much, since they can out maneuver most things.
The most exciting portion of the park, for me, and usually the kids, is the pioneer and rural living demonstrations. These include things like campfire building, raw material sourcing, some tool building, and a slew of survival skills. These demonstrations have a participation component and it can be informative to watch others try something outside of their usual city lives. The cross section of people who take to it and those that seem to struggle is always interesting.
It is never just a matter of smaller town or country folk versus the city folk. Some of the European tourists do really well, but then so do some of the Asian tourists. It is about something that people take to individually, rather than a specific background. That said, the people in the dirty trucks that are visiting from the local areas do seem to have more experience, and more practice, but that says more about what they have learned over time than a specific knack.