Place Where You Live:

Upper Las Vegas Wash

Las Vegas bearpoppy (Arctomecon californica)

The Las Vegas valley is a drainage basin, collecting the runoff from the surrounding mountains and nearby rivers, and emptying into the mighty Colorado River. In days past, the area provided an oasis for wildlife, Native Peoples, and travelers. At the head of the basin lies the Upper Las Vegas Wash, in the north of town. Comprised of about 12 square miles, it begins northeast of Las Vegas and flows directly into the main Las Vegas Wash, which collects and naturally filters urban runoff from the city. The water empties into Lake Mead, which is the main water source for area residents.

The 22,000-plus acres of mostly untouched wild area provide a specialized habitat for rare plant species and include a corridor for many species of desert wildlife. It is home to the Las Vegas bearpoppy, a state-listed critically endangered plant, and the desert tortoise, a federally-threatened animal. The upper wash also contains archaeological treasures that merited listing on the National Historic Registry. A 1000-acre dig in 1962 at the Tule Springs site within the wash revealed a plethora of fossils from the late-Pleistocene era, including Columbian mammoths, ground sloths, camelops and many others.

Around 2006, I was one of many who surveyed the Upper Las Vegas Wash for endangered plants like the Las Vegas bearpoppy. Recognizing that the place needed protection, I nominated it to the Scenic Nevada organization’s Last Chance Scenic Places.

While the BLM sold off land around the outskirts of town, the City of North Las Vegas became interested in acquiring part of the Upper Wash property. Activist groups such as the Protectors of Tule Springs and Ice Age Park Foundation have been fighting to keep that from happening.

Now the ULVW is being considered for a national monument. My hope is that the unique area will be preserved, where, through interpretation, it could serve to connect people to the land. It would give people a site to explore, that, unlike the Las Vegas strip, tells the natural history of southern Nevada, from thousands of years ago to today.