Guest Columnist

Springs Preserve: A different take on Vegas-style entertainment

Visitors walk through the Boomtown exhibit at the Springs Preserve in Las Vegas. (Courtesy Springs Preserve)

She describes herself thusly: “Optimist and believer in the triumph of the human spirit. Inspired by nature. Passion for adventure. Fascination with creativity, puzzles and mysteries. Storyteller.”

On that last point, Dawn Barraclough does indeed have a story to tell, and she’s been telling it since 2006 as a spokesperson for Springs Preserve, which is downright — what’s the right word for it? — well, how about “nature-ific”? In her role as a media liaison, Barraclough has been communicating the significant value of Springs Preserve as a resource to Las Vegas in the areas of history, culture, education and sustainability.

Dawn’s passion for the environment and the arts has been a constant in her life. Her early childhood was spent surrounded by the beauty of Southern California beaches, and her teen years saw her exploring the majestic Rockies of Colorado. A poet and painter at heart, she received her undergraduate degree in English/creative writing from San Francisco State University and a certificate in public relations from UNLV.

Barraclough is a member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), a founding member of the Las Vegas Museum Alliance (LVMA), and serves on the board of directors of the Nevada Museums Association (NMA.) She is a member of the Jameson Fellowship, a group of Las Vegas nonprofit professionals dedicated to creating a compassionate community in Las Vegas.  She has been a recipient of five Public Relations Society of America Pinnacle Awards for her work at the Springs Preserve.


Almost every city in North America has its Plymouth Rock — that singular place locals can point to as its birthplace. In Las Vegas, that place is the Springs Preserve.

Eons ago, artesian springs drew Native Americans, Spanish explorers, early ranchers and the railroad to the waters that brought life to the Mojave Desert and gave what we now know as Las Vegas — meaning “the meadows” — its name. Although the springs long ago dried up, today, on that same site just three miles but a world away from the glitz and glamour of the famed Strip, the Springs Preserve — listed on the National Register of Historic Places — is a 180-acre attraction that represents the cultural and historic heart of Las Vegas.

Through a combination of hands-on exhibits, museums celebrating our region’s natural and manmade history, live animal displays, special events and festivals, and numerous hands-on activities and classes, the Springs Preserve connects nearly 300,000 annual visitors to a world of adventure and wonderment.

Of those visitors, about 15 percent, or 45,000, are non-residents, lured away from the usual recreational tourist activities because Springs Preserve is unlike any other destination in Las Vegas, with an array of fun and educational indoor and outdoor opportunities for guests of all ages.

Dawn Barraclough

In the Origen Museum, informative exhibits tell the story of the geography, the people and animals who have inhabited the land throughout the ages. Galleries feature rotating art, nature and science-themed traveling exhibits that change every three months so there is always something new to see. Permanent exhibits include: the pulse-pounding “flash flood”; desert critters such as Gila monsters, desert cottontail rabbits, and nine species of lizards in live animal exhibits; re-created Native American settlements; and an immersive re-creation of the 1905 railroad land auction that set the stage for the boomtown that Las Vegas would become.

Outside is all the unique splendor of this national historic site. Ecological restoration efforts have brought the return of 250 species of wildlife to the Preserve. Four miles of trails follow the footsteps of early explorers where visitors can choose to walk, bike or ride a trackless train through the grounds. Along the way, desert wetlands, cottonwood groves and interpretive sites reveal the milestones in Las Vegas history. Natural habitats for desert tortoise — the famed Mojave Max — as well as a system of ponds have been created to provide a home to endangered species of frog and fish from the region.

In the Botanical Garden, a colorful and textural explosion of Mojave Desert Plants and other varieties provide inspiration for home gardens. Nearby, DesertSol is an ultra-efficient model home that showcases innovations in sustainable design including technology, energy and material choices, and uses solar energy as a fuel source. In the spring and fall, the Butterfly Habitat gives visitors the opportunity to witness the fascinating dance between hundreds of free-flying butterflies and the plants that sustain them.

One of the Springs Preserve’s newest attractions is Boomtown 1905, an interactive streetscape with representations of historic buildings from Las Vegas’ past, including the Lincoln Hotel, Majestic Theater, Arizona Club, Las Vegas Mercantile, and First State Bank. At the head of the street is a reconstruction of the original Las Vegas Railroad Depot, which serves as a stop for visitors riding aboard the Springs Preserve’s trackless train — itself a salute to the valley’s historic railroad roots.

Completing the streetscape are four original cottages built between 1910 and 1911 by the San Pedro, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake Railroad for their workers. Moved from their original locations Downtown and fully restored, the cottages —one of which is open to the public — and the other structures provide visitors with an opportunity to learn about life in a small, dusty, desert town that eventually evolved into a world-renowned entertainment and resort destination.

Across the road is WaterWorks. This exhibit is inside the Charleston Heights Pumping Station, an operational water pumping facility of the Las Vegas Valley Water District.  WaterWorks features dynamic, hands-on experiences that engage visitors in the inner-workings of water treatment and delivery in Southern Nevada. The Global Terrace features interactive exhibits about worldwide water challenges and explores how organizations like One Drop are connecting people to protect vital water supplies around the globe.

If all this exploration leaves visitors tired and hungry, the Divine Cafe is open for lunch daily, Sunday brunch and Happy Hour on Thursday nights, with al fresco views of Downtown and the Strip from its balcony.

One floor below the Divine Cafe, the gift shop is filled with a one-of-a-kind selection of books, games, clothing and memorabilia. Focused on natural history and desert themes, the gift shop has a variety of unique green gifts, helpful household accessories and souvenirs.

Throughout the year, the Springs Preserve hosts cultural festivals that celebrate the diversity of the Las Vegas community. Family-friendly events such as the Ice Cream Festival, Haunted Harvest and Día de Muertos provide seasonal family fun, while the Brews & Blues and Grapes & Hops festivals offer beer and wine tastings accompanied by great live music and activities for adults.

The Springs Preserve invites all visitors to join the party and bring the family to learn about the rich diversity of life in our desert home. For more information, visit

Voices of Vegas features guest columnists from all walks of public life in Las Vegas. With columns touching on local cultural, historical, social, civic, educational and humanitarian topics, among others, they weave a tapestry of perspectives that emphasize the dynamism, depth and benefits of the Southern Nevada tourism industry.

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by DAWN BARRACLOUGH, Public and media relations representative, Springs Preserve

by DAWN BARRACLOUGH, Public and media relations representative, Springs Preserve