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Bonnie Springs Eternal

The closure of the quirky petting zoo suggests a new era for Red Rock: from recreation area to suburban enclave

I can’t recall the first time my parents took me on what became a regular visit to Bonnie Springs Ranch, but it was before its ghost town replica opened in 1974. Those childhood memories consist of feeding the ducks at the pond and gorging myself on a French dip by the fireplace, followed by a drive home on an undulating, two-lane blacktop twisting through the pitch-black desert. Rounding the easterly bend of Nevada Route 159, where homes now sit, I could see the lights of Las Vegas twinkling in the far distance.

Recently, I began to rediscover Bonnie Springs. Over the holidays, I was frequently drawn to this picturesque spot in Red Rock — searching, it would seem, for a connection to the Las Vegas I once knew, a rekindling of my love affair with my hometown. Each time I made the drive, my stress would dissipate. I’d roll down the windows and let the fresh desert air stream in and take me back. The smell of sage, the gorgeous Spring Mountains, the rush of blood through my heart, the comfort of home.

I woke to the news of the sale of Bonnie Springs Ranch the same way anyone wakes to sad news: This. Can’t. Be. True. But it was as true as any pending deal can be, and more heartbreaking than the casino implosions I witnessed. Unlike those disposable assets waiting for the next reinvention, Bonnie Springs seemed a permanent fixture on the Mojave horizon. In any growing metropolis, permanence is mostly an illusion; in Las Vegas, it seems an impossibility. The zoning necessary to remake the ranch into homes was already there, the Las Vegas boomtown mindset was already there. The end, in retrospect, was inevitable.

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But redeveloping Bonnie Springs does raise questions about the rest of the Red Rock area. The growth of Las Vegas means more residents, more visitors, more development parked right on nature’s doorstep. Compared to 25 years ago, Red Rock today reads like an urban wilderness park akin to the Phoenix Mountains Preserve in Arizona. There are already two enclaves of rugged (or rich) individualists living out there, in Calico Basin and Blue Diamond. All told, about 1,960 acres is zoned for commercial development, including a shooting range. And while that’s only about 1 percent of the total Red Rock Conservation Area, it’s not hard to imagine other redevelopments following. 

While few may have an emotional attachment to a gun range, more than 50,000 have signed an online petition pushing to name Bonnie Springs a historical landmark. Property rights being central to the Western ethos, a historical designation seems unlikely. But as the redevelopers of Bonnie Springs Ranch are both native Las Vegans who have indicated that they wish to set aside 10 of the ranch’s 64 acres available for public use, there is some room for a win-win. I hope the petition at least telegraphs to the developers that they’re stepping into the heart and soul of many fellow Las Vegans, and some preservation of the existing ranch would be welcome. Your neighbors would appreciate it.