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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Visiting Las Vegas' Springs Preserve

On our last trip to Vegas, we had several spare days where we spent time with family and also did our own sightseeing things. Though we've been there a dozen or more times, there's always more to see in and around the Strip. One of the things we've ever done was to check out the Springs Preserve off 95, which brings together local plants of the southwest, native animals, history, science and art to create a fun and immersive experience for visitors of all ages.

Springs Preserve Las Vegas

Vegas has its own natural history museum (which was news to me), but you can get a little taste of evolution and wildlife of the Las Vegas Valley and surrounding areas. Check out this Cumbrian mammoth they had on display! His name was Christopher Columbrian, which I thought was fun.

In this same building are artifacts and exhibits from the beginning of settlers coming to the area. We learned about how the Hoover Dam was built by tons of workers, communications among early settlers, transportation and more. 

The museum part explored he beginnings of what we know as modern Vegas, including the role of the mob, the evolution of slot machines, showgirl costumes and even the life of Howard Hughes and the things he left behind in the room he lived in. 

Springs Preserve is made up of several buildings and outdoor spaces. It's great for kids, because even the art exhibits are fun and some are hands-on like this one that uses light and shadow to show hidden pictures in different works. Some of these were white until you looked through a viewer (as you can see above) and then the piece came to life with color and beautiful scenes. Some were easy to see, but changed as the light changed. The kids in attendance also loved this exhibit, because it was colorful and exciting. I'd love to have such a thing in my house to wow my visitors.

Visitors can learn about early settlement and life in the Valley through interactive exhibits like this one that shows the land auctions.

And this one that allows you to learn about train travel. 

And then this one that teaches you about the Native Americans already living in the Valley and how they farmed and lived along the water to make life easier.

We got to the Preserve just in time for an animal show, mostly for kids, but just as fun and educating for adults.

During the show, you learn about some of the desert's more interesting inhabitants, vote on who you think is the ultimate survivor and kids get to play challenges with one another to show what they've learned or already know about the desert and how to live in the scorching heat and, sometimes, freezing nights.

Aside from the shows, there are also exhibits with native animals and insects.  

In another part of the Preserve is a science museum of sorts. When we weretherewe learned about how light works in certain situations. Here's what it looks like in a prism...or a kaleidoscope of me!

There was also this fun set-up by Polaroid that used different colored lights to produce colorful shadows. Who doesn't want a green shadow? I'll tell you who: nobody, because it's awesome!

Outside, there was a desert botanical garden, which we missed, because it was getting late and also it was super hot outside. Instead, we opted to ride the train and get some cool drinks and a popscicle. The train takes you through the grounds, which also have running, hiking and biking trails for visitors to explore. 

Along the way, if you choose to hike,are shady spots with info about points of interest. Next time we visit, I'll attempt to hit up the outside portion as soon as we get there in the morning, because it looked pretty interesting.

Their gift shop is fairly large and has a bunch of cool stuff pertaining to just about everything at the Preserve, plus there's this sweet bonnet-wearing dinosaur.

We decided to duck into Divine Cafe before leaving and were pleasantly surprised. First off, the food is affordable. Most main plates cost $10-12. Second, the cafe is gorgeous, huge and very clean. Third, they have a wonderful outdoor seating area that has shelter from the sun. 

You order at the counter and then get your number and find a table. When our food came, it was absolutely the most beautiful plating I'd ever seen. 

Eric ordered the chicken milanese flatbread with sweet potato tots and I got the special, which was a monte cristo with fries. Did I know it came with an egg? No, I did not. Have my monte cristos been missing that the whole time? Yes they have. It was actually as delicious as it was lovely, and while it doesn't look like much, it was very filling. If you're in the area, even if you're not interested in going to the Preserve, I'd recommend visiting for the cafe alone. 

We actually purchased a membership while we were here. It was $45 for an individual + guest, which is $15 cheaper than any other garden seems to sell memberships for. It gives us one year of access to Springs Preserve, with discounts at the gift shop, cafe and train, and we can use it at hundreds of reciprocal gardens across North America to get in for free (or discounted). In fact, we used it already last weekend to visit the Oregon Garden in Silverton when we had family visiting and got a discount on admission for the person we brought along. If your family visits botanical gardens and the like while traveling, a family membership at a garden that is in the reciprocal program is a heck of a deal and can really save you year-round, whether you're on vacation or not. We plan to use ours again when we visit New Orleans in the fall.

So, if you're in Las Vegas and looking for something different and away from the craze of The Strip, hop in the car and drive the 20 minutes to get there. It's an affordable way to spend the better part of a day and you'll learn more about the Valley than you thought you could. Tickets run $18.95 per adult, so if there is more than one of you, and you plan to even visit one more garden during the year, it just makes sense to buy a membership if you don't already have one. And if you're a Pokemon-hunter, you'll find a bunch around the grounds and may even get a free button, too!

What's your favorite non-Vegasy thing to do when you visit?

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