Review Date:...June 2014 Destination:...Nevada State Museum Hours:.........10am - 6pm Weather:.......clear & hot
The Nevada State Museum in Las Vegas is located at the Springs Preserve state park. The museum is themed on general history so exhibits range from ancient geology to modern Las Vegas show biz. This Nevada State Museum is fairly new as far a museums go so I thought it was time to check it out and write up a little review of my experience there.
Although it is located within the Springs Preserve park, it has a separate entrance. It is possible to enter the museum without having to purchase a ticket for the Springs Preserve. If you have purchased a Springs Preserve ticket, then access to the museum is free. The most direct approach to the museum is by parking at the upper parking lot -- which is the public parking lot farthest into the park. Hours of operation are between 10:00am and 6:00pm.
In the lobby of the museum is a bristlecone pine tree and beyond that, the museum proper. The museum is roughly divided into five sections.
1. Entry Portal
The first thing you will notice when entering the museum proper is Christopher Cambrian (a skeletal mammoth) towering above you. The mammoth foreshadows the next section -- Land.
The "Land" section deals with flora & fauna (plants & animals) of the desert and also with geology, climate, and fossil & Paleo life. The stars of this section are the mammoth, a giant ground sloth skeleton, a prehistoric horse skeleton, and the bones of an Ichthyosaur (the second largest).
While Nevada today is a desert, during the last Ice Age, which ended about 10,000 years ago, forests covered the mountains down to the edge of the valleys. These valleys were mixtures of grasslands, marshes, springs, and wet meadows that supported herds of large animals.
Columbian Mammoths, horses, camels, extinct bison, ground sloths, large cats, and many other animals roamed across the state.
Two large lakes, Lahonton in the West and Bonneville in the east covered central Nevada. Terrain alternations from these lakes can still be seen near Pyramid Lake.
Today, Nevada consist mostly of vast stretches of arid land that form desert valleys separated by long high mountain ranges. This repeating geography is characteristic of the geologic Basic and Range province that extends from Oregon through Arizona to Mexico. Nevada is also the heart of the Great Basic -- an area of the West where rivers and streams do not drain into the sea. Except for two areas, the Snake River drainage in the north and the Colorado River area in the southeast, rivers and streams in Nevada either evaporate or sink into the desert.
Nevada's unique landscape of mountainous terrain and disappearing water has shaped both he biology of the land the history of the people who settled it.
The Desert Life
Animals and plants in the desert face extreme stress caused by lack of water, and their adaptations to high evaporation rates during the dry seasons are seen in habitats throughout the state. Plants have developed a host of strategies to conserve water. Waxy or hairy leaves reduce evaporation. Fleshy leaves or stems provide storage. Extensive roots make the most of water that disappears as fast as it arrives. Animals often recycle water internally and have behaviors, such as burrowing, that keep them out of the worst conditions.
At the other extreme are wet environments. Trees that live near springs, lakes, or washes can move enormous amounts of water through their leaves. Amphibians, insects, and fish often appear in large numbers where water is permanent, many of the restricted to specific places.
Creosote: Covering vast areas of low desert from Texas to California, the Creosote bush community is familiar to anyone traveling in the Mojave Desert in southern Nevada. While the most prominent plant is Creosote Bush, several species of cactus, Burrobush, and Mojave Yucca are also common. In the spring, bright annual wildflowers make a brief appearance, carpeting the desert before quickly setting seed. Insects, and other animals take advantage of this windfall.
Joshua Tree: The Joshua Tree is the dominant large tree in the Mojave Desert, growing at higher altitudes than the Creosote bush. Blackbrush, and inconspicuous, thorny shrub, is frequently found with Joshua Trees. During the spring bloom, grasses are more abundant than wildflowers. Most of the animals and insects that appear here are also found with creosote, with the exception of animals such as night lizards and woodpeckers that live in Joshua trees.
The Great Basic Desert: The Mojave Desert of southern Nevada grades into the great Basic Desert as elevation rises and average temperature cools. The great Basic Desert is colder and wetter, most of the precipitation comes as snow rather than rain. Big Sagebrush and Saltbrush dominate the valley floors and climb partway up the mountains. Salt tolerant plants replace the sagebrush at the center of most valleys where salts accumulate in seasonal lakes.
The middle section of the museum covers the history of the first peoples living the Nevada, the explorers & trailblazers, pioneers, influential people, and the settlers that passed through on their way to California.
4. Early Days
In this section, the history of mining, ranches, and railways are covered. This time was a period of boom and bust for many small towns. Also the history of Hoover Dam, the Nevada Test Site, and Nellis AFB are covered.
The nickname "Silver State" declares the importance of mining to the economy of Nevada. Frequent episodes of volcanism throughout geologic history have produced precious metal ores across the state. Gold production in Nevada is the third largest in the world behind Australia and South Africa.
Nevada Mining Impacts the World
The Comstock silver rush was a world event in 1859. Lured by promises of wealth, skilled miners came from Ireland, England (Cornwall), Germany, Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, and elsewhere. The Comstock boom set a pattern for outside ownership of Nevada's economic assets. Underground or "lode" mining requires financing beyond the reach of individuals. Most funding came from out of state and most profit followed it out, first to Bank of California investors and later to the famed "Bonanza Firm" in the 1870s. Financial speculation ran wild in San Francisco, where a stock exchange opened, attracting capital for western mining, especially for the Comstock. Spreading news of the Comstock worldwide were journalists Dan de Quille and Mark Twin, their colorful stories often had some truth to them.
Silver: Although Nevada is known as the "Silver State", silver is less valuable per ounce than gold, but is more abundant. The reactions of silver to light made it of primary use in photographs before the digital age. One of silver's more interesting properties is that it kills microbes; it is increasingly used in medicine and decontamination efforts. Silver is most familiar, however, as ornament. Silver jewelry and utensils, serving trays, and vases have been made almost as long as silver has been mined.
Gold: That word brought miners thousands of miles to Nevada with dreams of fortunes to be made. Nevada is still one of the top gold producers in the world, ranking with the countries of South Africa and Australia. Early gold mining found wealth in nuggets or veins, but gold mined today is usually in microscopic deposits. Gold, copper, and silver are the three noble metals -- bright, ductile (draws into wire), malleable (can be shaped easily) and all conduct electricity. Gold does not react easily with other elements and is not poisonous so it can be used for dental work and even eaten. Gold can be easily worked into jewelry and other expensive ornaments. But most of all, gold is beautiful.
Copper: Rich copper deposits are part of Nevada's mining heritage, particularly in White Pine county. copper conducts our electronic world; circuit boards and wires depend on copper. It is easy to bend so copper I used for plumbing. Copper forms alloys with tin, creating bronze, and with lead, creating brass. Turquoise is a mineral containing copper; that is where its blue-green color comes from. Copper ores are primarily blue-green or black.
The Nevada society that emerged from the 1860s and 1870s consisted of more than mining camps and railroad towns. While few productive farms were established like those in Utah or the Midwest, Nevada farmers and ranchers still learned to prosper in a desert environment. Since the soil was too dry and alkaline in most places, and the growing season too short, a lifestyle emerged, based largely on raising cattle and sheep on the open range.
Three ranching families became prominent even before Nevada became a state. Henry F. Dangberg in the Carson Valley, H.N.A. Mason along the Walker River, and R.B. and T.B. Smith in Smith Valley all established significant livestock enterprises in the 1850s.
Sheepherders had driven thousands of animals across the Humboldt-Carson Trail to California. They saw Nevada rangelands, remembered its grasses, and some came back to take their chances.
Nevada's Nuclear Test Site & Gunnery Range
Just 65 miles north of Las Vegas is one of the most fascinating landmarks to American scientific ingenuity and cold war politics. In 1950, President Harry Truman established the Nevada Proving Grounds, which later became the Nevada Test Site, on 1,350 square miles of dry lakes and rugged mountains.
Larger than the state of Rhode Island, the Test Site quickly became the keystone of America's nuclear complex during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Between 1951 and 1962, above-ground nuclear tests were conducted, until an international treaty moved the tests underground. In Las Vegas, residents and tourists watched the spectacle of atmospheric tests light up the sky and the mushroom cloud became the icon of the nuclear age.
In addition to the Nevada Test Site, Nevada was the home of the Las Vegas Army Gunnery School which opened in 1941. The school trained machine gunners to shoot down enemy fighter planes. During this time more than 25,000 men were trained and the base swelled the Las Vegas population.
5. Viva Las Vegas
Finally, the museum touches on the colored history of Las Vegas and the entertainment industry. Personalities from Bugsy Siegel to Howard Hughes and many others are on display.
After the Mormons abandoned their mission in 1857, Las Vegas was reborn as a railroad town in 1905. The San Pedro, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake Railroad bought land and water rights and controlled the city for years. Downtown streets and parallel the railroad tracks, but do not run in a north-south direction, are a reminder of its early dominance.
Hoover Dam, built from 1931 to 1935, provided tourists, payrolls, and Lake Mead. Combined with the 1931 laws legalizing gambling and liberalizing divorce rules, Las Vegas became a tourists town. World War II brought an air base and a magnesium plant, tripling the population.
Changing fro Old West imagery to more exotic themes in the 1950s, the brilliantly lit Las Vegas became a world destination.
Las Vegas, one of the few American cities that looks like a movie set, attracts many filmmakers. some tell an accurate story; most add to false perceptions. Fascination with crime is a recurring theme of movies set in Las Vegas. Casino (1995) was based on real events, the decline of the mob. Bugsy (1991) is full of inaccuracies, painting Bugsy Siegel as a visionary. The notion of Las Vegas as a national playground was bolstered by the Rat Pack's Ocean's 11 (1960). Movies preserve the past even if Las Vegas doesn't. Viva Las Vegas (1964) provides a scenic tour. Mars Attacks (1996) records the implosion of the Landmark Hotel. The allure of Las Vegas remains powerful. As Dustin Hoffman's character in Rain Man says, "Very sparkly, very twinkly."
The Nevada State Museum is an entertaining look at the history of the Las Vegas area. It is well maintained, well curated, and well designed. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in quality. The Nevada State Museum is well recommended.