Designated in the fall of 2014, Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument is one of America’s newest and most interesting areas to explore. Considered to be one of the greatest records of Ice Age fossils in the entire world, Tule Springs is overseen by the National Parks Service and spans over 22,650 acres of land. Just 20 miles north of the famed Las Vegas Strip, the designated area lies in the city of North Las Vegas and begs to be enjoyed.
Although extremely difficult to imagine, this area, also known as the Las Vegas Wash, was inhabited by quite the impressive troupe of prehistoric creatures during the Ice Age. While the valley is arid today, it was once a lush wetland that attracted beings you only dare to dream about. Drawn to the area for water and food, scientists believe that these prehistoric creatures would become trapped in mud pits and eventually perish. Although studies are ongoing, it is believed this is the reason there is such a boundless concentration of fossils in the area.
It’s undeniable that any sort of fossil is interesting, but what makes Tule Springs so very special is the number of fossils [perhaps the largest concentration in the United States] and the variety of species uncovered in the wash. Herds of Ice Age Columbian Mammoths—the largest elephant species, with tusks spanning over 6 feet in length and molars the size of human heads—have been discovered at Tule Springs, seemingly untouched for centuries. Additionally, Camelops, larger versions of the camels we know today, along with American Lions weighing up to 1,100 pounds, extinct horses and massive sloths the size of sports cars have been discovered in the area. Even the Dire Wolf, Saber Tooth Cat, ancient bison, and llamas called this extraordinary area home.
With fossil fragments estimated to be over 200,000 years old, the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument is devoted to protecting and preserving these fascinating remnants of time. During the 1960s, a major excavation called the “Big Dig” took place, where scientists initially uncovered an unimaginable amount of large animal fossils. During this time, paleontologists understood the abundance of fossils in the area, but it wasn't until the early 2000s that the wash drew its most significant attention, prompting the area to be protected and overseen by the National Parks Service.
When visiting Tule Springs today, visitors can check out the site of the “Big Dig,” and if you keep your eyes peeled, you might even be lucky enough to spot a tusk or bone fragment from one of these paleontological gems. Although its certainly frowned upon to touch these ancient specimens, the Protectors of Tule Springs have said if you visit the National Monument and don't see some sort of bone or fragment, ‘you’re doing it wrong!’ That should give you an idea of just how many specimens are in the wash; it’s truly amazing.
Aside from the boatloads of fossils in the area, visitors should keep their eyes peeled for the extremely rare Bear Paw Poppy plant that grows in Las Vegas Wash. This stunning plant once densely covered the western part of the Mojave Desert, but is now considered to be extremely uncommon.
Perfect to check out during the winter, spring or autumn months, visitors to the Las Vegas area should make time to peruse this endlessly interesting natural history cache. It most certainly will be an outing you wont soon forget.
Tule Springs Fossil Beds is open during daylight hours only. No fees or passes are currently required to access the National Monument.
Because Tule Springs is a brand new park, there is no visitor center, facilities or parking area. To access and explore the park today, people can park on the nearby public roads in the cities of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas to enter the property on foot. As this is a designated National Monument, federal regulations prohibit off-roading. For easiest access, take interstate 215 to exit 43 and continue north onto North Aliante Parkway. Proceed on North Aliante for nearly two miles before hitting a hard left 90-degree turn. Visitors can park their vehicles on the shoulder of this turn and explore fossil beds nearby.
Despite the fact there is no visitor’s center currently in place, contact the Protectors of Tule Springs for more information on the area.