4 spectacular stops on the Old Spanish National Historic Trail in Vegas

4 spectacular stops on the Old Spanish National Historic Trail in Vegas

Photo courtesy of Bureau of Land Management California.

By Aleza Freeman

May 28, 2024

Nearly 200 years ago, Spanish explorer Antonio Mariano Armijo led a 2,700-mile expedition of men and mules on an uncharted path across New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and California.

That trek helped establish a multi-state trade route known as The Old Spanish Trail.

In the years to follow (1830-1850), this evolving trail allowed passage between the states for traders, Mormon settlers, early gold rush pioneers, and even horse thieves.

It is now commemorated in the states it crossed by street and park names, museums, landmarks, and historical markers; eight of which are found in Clark County cities including Mesquite, Moapa Valley, and Las Vegas.

The 135-stretch of the historic trail that cut through Southern Nevada was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. The trail as a whole was designated as the Old Spanish National Historic Trail by Congress in 2002.

Here are a few places to visit in the Las Vegas area to learn more about this historic trail and walk in the footsteps of the brave explorers who once traversed it.

Lost City Museum

721 S Moapa Valley Blvd, Overton

4 spectacular stops on the Old Spanish National Historic Trail in Vegas

Photo courtesy of Lost City Museum via Facebook.

As the Old Spanish Trail entered Nevada, it bordered modern-day Valley of Fire State Park on the north side of what is now known as the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

While the trail ran a few miles north of Overton, the small town’s Lost City Museum is a good place to kick off your journey if you’re looking for a little history. Many of the footpaths followed by the Spanish explorers were originally utilized by American Indians, and the Lost City Museum’s exhibits on the Anasazi and Paiute people help paint a fuller picture of the area’s early landscape and culture.

Springs Preserve

333 S. Valley View Blvd., Las Vegas

4 spectacular stops on the Old Spanish National Historic Trail in Vegas

Photo courtesy of Springs Preserve via Facebook.

During Armijo’s arduous expedition, a young explorer named Rafael Rivera changed the course of history when he discovered springs and meadows in what we now know as Las Vegas.

As the story goes, he got lost on Christmas Day and spent two weeks wandering on his own, eventually discovering a mesa–now home to the Southeast Career and Technical Academy. The mesa allowed him to see much-desired water and grass in the distance.

When reunited with his party, Rivera led them to the area, which they named Las Vegas (the meadows in Spanish). It is now the site of the 180-acre Springs Preserve, a cultural attraction with museums, galleries, gardens, and wetland trails – as well as the Nevada State Museum — dedicated to celebrating the history and future of Las Vegas.

Old Spanish Trail Park

8150 Tara Ave., Las Vegas

A community park with play structures, grassy areas, and walking trails in a residential area of Las Vegas, Old Spanish Trail Park is in the unique position of providing visitors with rest, relaxation, outdoor recreation opportunities, and a history lesson.

In addition to regular park activities, you can walk in the path of the early explorers and learn stories about the Old Spanish Trail from a series of educational displays. The displays cover a wide variety of topics including lessons on the area’s early indigenous settlers, the charting of the trail in 1845 by U.S. Captain John C. Fremont, and the use of the trail by the Mormon Battalion during the Mexican War in 1846.

Late Night Trailhead

State Route 160/Pahrump Valley Highway, Las Vegas

4 spectacular stops on the Old Spanish National Historic Trail in Vegas

Photo courtesy of the National park Service.

Another place to walk on a historic path is the Late Night Trailhead at Mountain Springs Pass in the 23,000-acre Cottonwood Valley Recreation Area of Red Rock Canyon.

Located off Nevada State Road 160, at the Cottonwood Valley Road exit, this area was discovered by Armijo and his explorers in 1830 and took two days to cross, according to the Nevada State Historic Preservation Office.

Today the trailhead provides access to 35 miles of designated trails, ranging from easy to strenuous. You won’t find any trace of the original trail, but you may spot a desert tortoise, wild horses, and burros.

You’ll also find restrooms and educational exhibits relating to the story of the Old Spanish Trail. A sign with large, metal mule silhouettes marks the entrance along with Nevada State Historical Marker No. 142 for the Old Spanish Trail (Mountain Spring Pass).

According to the sign, the springs just north of the marker, in the town now known as Blue Diamond, served as a water source for the explorers while the meadows fed their animals:

“The trip was broken at Cottonwood Springs, the site of Blue Diamond, where an early start was usually made in order to climb the pass by nightfall. Early travelers often referred to the area as Paiute Springs, but the present title has been used for over a century. The altitude made Mountain Springs one of the favorite camping spots on the Trail.”

Parking for the pet-friendly Late Night Trailhead is available in an area along SR-160, also known as the Pahrump Valley Highway, 15 miles west of where it intersects with Interstate-15.

Additional Resources

This article first appeared on Good Info News Wire and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.4 spectacular stops on the Old Spanish National Historic Trail in Vegas4 spectacular stops on the Old Spanish National Historic Trail in Vegas

  • Aleza Freeman

    Aleza Freeman is a Las Vegas native and award-winning journalist with two decades of experience writing and editing lifestyle, travel, entertainment, and human interest stories in Nevada. Her work has appeared in AARP magazine, Haute Living and Nevada Magazine.

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