Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tule Springs and Early Man


Tule reeds slowly wave in the gentle breeze. Large geese float on the calm waters of a spring-fed lake. It’s easy to see why early Nevadans would have been attracted to Tule Springs.

At Tule Springs, officially known as the Floyd Lamb Park at Tule Springs, archaeologists have discovered evidence of man having lived in the area about 10,000 years ago, making it one of the older sites of human habitation in the United States.

Floyd Lamb Park is located 10 miles northwest of Las Vegas, via U.S. Highway 95 and Durango Drive. The park is clearly marked from the highway.

Starting in 1933, archaeologists have uncovered fossil remains at Tule Springs that indicate that the water spot was once frequented by large mammals such as mammoths, bison, horses, camels and giant sloths.

In 1962, an extensive excavation revealed that humans used the site about 10,000 to 11,000 years ago, when the entire Southern Nevada region was much cooler and wetter than it is today.

Additionally, the evidence indicated that those early inhabitants were more advanced than scientists had thought. Scientists have found prehistoric hearths, fluted arrows, spear points, scrapers and charred animal bones.

The springs continued to be essential to the development of the west. Later evidence showed that about 7,000 years ago the region was populated by small groups of Desert Culture people, who survived on native vegetation and small game.

A horse-changing station developed at the springs in the early 20th century, servicing horse-drawn wagon and freight trains traveling between the mining camps to the north and the railroad station at Las Vegas.

In 1916, John H. Nay filed for the water rights of Tule Springs and within a few years was cultivating ten acres of land. About a decade later, Nay sold his small farm to Gilbert Hefner, who apparently did nothing with it for many years.

The more modern development at Tule Springs took place after Prosper Jacob Gourmond, a prominent Las Vegas businessman, acquired the site and converted it to a dude ranch for divorcees.

Gourmond offers a swimming pool, lake, tennis courts, shooting range, horseback riding, hayrides, dances and other entertainment to his clients. In addition to providing a place for women seeking a divorce, the ranch expanded to include a hundred acres of alfalfa, cattle, dairy cows and fruit orchards.

Many of the whitewash and green-trimmed ranch buildings of the former Tule Springs Ranch can still be found on the site.

In the 1960s, the ranch was purchased by the city of Las Vegas for a park and renamed in honor of a former state Senator who was one of the longest serving members of the Legislature. In 1977, it became a Nevada state park but was returned to city ownership in 2005.

The park encompasses more than 680 acres, which include nature trails, picnic tables, gazebos and lakes for fishing. Within the park, there is also a state arboretum and nursery.

Standing beside the large spring-fed lake in the center of the park, it's easy to appreciate how important the site must have been to Nevada's earliest inhabitants. The area is literally an oasis in the desert with its green lawns, lush tule reeds and mature trees.

Visitors will find picnic areas with tables and grills as well as fishing (Tule Lake is stocked with catfish during the summer and rainbow trout during the winter).

There is a day use fee for the park, which is open during daylight hours (no camping is allowed). For more information, contact Floyd Lamb Park, 9200 Tule Springs Road, Las Vegas, NV 89131, http://www.lasvegasnevada.gov/TextOnly/Find/12095.htm.

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