When we mention to people that we plan to travel to Las Vegas, they usually have two expectations: it will be hot, and we will be in the casinos. We are probably among the few who go to Las Vegas and are usually cold and we pass through the casino only to get to the hotel section. We are here to visit with family. Fortunately, Karen and Tom know about a lot of interesting places to go, off The Strip. During out weekend in Las Vegas, after Zack’s jazz band concert, we toured the Valley of Fire and Lost City Museum, and had a sneak preview of the new facilities for the Nevada State Museum at the Springs Preserve.
The Valley of Fire State Park is an hour’s drive north of Las Vegas. Karen recalls this location being hot and windy all the time. We had cold and windy, which limited our enthusiasm for exploration hikes in the canyons. On the other hand, had we spent our time among the red rocks, we would not have had time for the next museum. But, first this valley.
The Great Basin, which composes most of Nevada, sits at a lower elevation than the Colorado Plateau, around where we drove our RV. This occurs because of multiple fault lines. One of these creates the Valley of Fire. A fault to the east of the red Navajo Sandstone, pushes the younger layers underneath the older formations of grey-green lime stone and dolomite. So, imagine the grey-green and rust red earth, and bright blue sky rising upon each other, then you have a sense of this intriguing landscape. Now, just add a stiff wind blowing a constant stream of unseen sand particles at you.
We made one outdoor stop for lunch and to view a series of petroglyphs. The obvious set is a rock panel 30+ feet up some stairs. It is quite a place to envision folks scampering up with rock tools to leave their depictions of human and animal figures. Most of the tourists step up, look, snap some photos, and leave. Tom informed us that at ground level, around the whole area there are more petroglyphs. Having spent some time finding these images in various canyons along our trip, we had a more
watchful eye and found dozens more. Karen brought us to Valley of Fire years ago. I recall the stairs and a good walk in different part of the park, which has lots of petroglyphs. That was the first time I had seen such images. This fascinates me as much as petrified wood. But, Linda says I am a cheap date and easily amused.
The visitors center has a series of displays about the geology of the park, flora and fauna. These are mostly organized with plaques with descriptions and photos, some of which has faded in the blue tones, accentuating the redness of the sandstone. Other displays housed various reptiles, dioramas of Native American settlements, and videos about visiting the park and safety in the desert.
With the wind discouraging additional exploration, we drove through the park, made a few turns, and were soon at the Lost City Museum. This is a double entendre in a way. First, this is an excavation area for pueblo dwellers, over which the museum is literally built. Second, nearby excavations, as well as a mining city and many other pre-historical sites were “lost” when Lake Powel inundated them as it filled up. The museum is organized around several different rooms. The original
pottery, beads, and baskets are displayed in wood and glass cases in the entrance room. Additional pre-historic items, information on Lake Powel, a time line of local geological features, are in a second room. The main room, with gift shop, sits over the foundation walls which were excavated on the site, giving sense of the space which the pueblos used. An hour is sufficient to view this museum. Then, back to Las Vegas for family dinner at Outback Steakhouse (Zack’s selection).
Our last day in Las Vegas, Tom treated us to a preview of the new exhibits which he has been working on at the Nevada State Museum. These are state of the art displays, with multi-screen videos as you enter, full size reconstructions of fossils found in Nevada, historical information on the Souther Pauites, Mormon settlers, railroad travelers, miners, and finally The Strip. All of these topics have been on display at the current location, but in less spacious and cohesive organization.
We will have to visit again when all the display cases are full and the museum is open later this year.
These three museums represent the progression of artifact presentation over the past 100 years. The Lost City Museum had the cases full of stuff: good solid wood frames with glass and lots of stuff in each case. You figure it out. Valley of Fire has the late century “interpretative center”, trying to be engaging and informative. This era is at risk for looking dated after a couple of decades of use. Finally, the new Nevada State Museum takes us into the multi-media presentation: lots of Wow-Factor for those wanting a walk through and school groups, but plenty of information for those who stay around long enough for their pupils to dilate (which you may want by the time you inspect all those sequins and feathers on the course girls outfits on manequines… overstimulation for the imaginative).
Should you be heading to Las Vegas, whether for a conference, sport, or entertainment, check out these, and other interesting natural sites and museums. Hopefully, you will visit when it is warm.