When we first arrived here in November, the sadness and trauma of the largest mass casualty shooting in the US here October 1 felt very tangible. We moved around the city easily and always found great places to park. Restaurants offered immediate seating and store clerks were anxious for our business. Now that we are in the middle of the holiday season, people in a celebratory mood have arrived in droves. We have no idea how the crowds we are confronting compare to the crowds in past years, but it is more than crowded enough for us. The campground is totally full and some of the shows we are interested in seeing are sold out for the next few days. When we walk The Strip the police are everywhere, some even on horseback. It feels like a different place.
So we headed to the peace and quiet of Springs Preserve, an oasis a few mile from The Strip. This spot answered a question we have always had: why is Las Vegas here, in this particular place surrounded by desert? Why does its name mean "the meadows?" As is often the case in the desert, the answer is water. There were naturally occurring springs here, bubbling out from a vast aquifer. The native Americans stopped by, the Pony Express watered their horses here, the military built a fort here in the 1800's and airfields and other military installations during World War II. By the time Bugsy Siegal and the mob got here after the war, their casinos attracted enough visitors that by 1962 the springs had been drained. Now that much of the water the city comes from Lake Meade 35 miles away and the water level declines every year, and water concerns continue to be ever present.
Today the spot where the springs first bubbled up is a huge park with a variety of indoor and outdoor activities. We wandered through a botanical garden which featured plants that can grow here without human intervention and plants that can flourish with drip irrigation. When we visit the desert in the winter, we always marvel at the signs warning about flash floods. We have never personally experienced them and they are hard to imagine when it never rains. Las Vegas usually gets 4" annually and has had only one so far. The park had an exhibit where you stood in a slot canyon and the water swirled around us as it lightening and thundered. Very dramatic. We sat in a mock up of the Hoover Dam and films projected on the wall showed the dam being built around us. What chutzpah those engineers had to imagine and implement such an ambitious plan to harness the Colorado River.
Two museums on the site featured all things Nevada. Desert animals were in view. Myriad display cases showed old costumes, slot machines, show programs, film clips, from entertainment on The Strip. We did not linger at the mining displays since we just learned so much in the northern part of the state last month. Even with this omission, by the time we had left the preserve, we had walked more than 10,000 steps and we still had an evening of entertainment in store with even more walking. We parked at the Miracle Mile Mall (for free) which was teeming with shoppers and worked our way through them to the Paris casino where we saw a circus. Since animals lovers have caused elephants to retire from circus life, this show featured huge elephants animated by teams of puppeteers. With appropriate lighting they moved so naturally, we would have sworn they were real. They know how to put on a show here.