Mommy Vegas Idea #11
Come and Play a World Away!
Can you identify this city? At first glance, this picture looks like it could have been taken somewhere around Seattle, maybe even the Midwest, but look close! That’s not the Space Needle… wait a minute… WHERE IS THIS? Is that the Wynn… and the Stratosphere?!
So where were these photos taken? If you’re struggling to answer, without reading the post heading ;), you need to get out more… to the Wetlands Park! This beautiful little garden spot at the business end of the Las Vegas Wash has long been a gem in the Mojave Desert, but the recent additions of more trails and the truly breathtaking Nature Center have made this pretty little place to hike and jog a standalone destination.
I remember jogging around on dusty trails thinking it was fantastic. A beautiful little nature sanctuary amid the hustle and bustle. The tranquility is still front and center (of course we will always have to listen past the aircraft buzzing by, unfortunately it lies in the flight path of more than just a few dozen types of migratory birds!), but now the jogging stroller glides smoothly along hardscape (worry not, there are still oodles of dirt and gravel trails about), and the little visitors’ center has blossomed from a porta-potty alongside a tiny modular, into a 45,000 sqft. multi-purpose LEED (Leader in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold Standard (that’s architect speak for uber, uber, uber “green” – there’s only one more available “uber”) complex. It’s a whole lot more than you would expect from a completely free venue.
I don’t even know where to begin to describe this fantastic place, we should just stop here. GO, hop in your car, drive down there and check it out! Ok, you win, that’s not terribly practical, who knows what you could be wearing! While I’m inclined to jump right into the core of the experience, THE TRAILS, I really think there is some great benefit to starting and ending your adventure (at least your first visit) with a trip to the NEW Nature Center.
The Nature Center
The new 45,000 sqft. visitors’ complex is open from 9 am – 3 pm and includes a beautiful 8,333 sqft. exhibit hall, an auditorium that seats 85, state of the art restrooms (oooh, aaaah), and rumor has it there will also be a cafe AND a nature store in the not too distant future! Possibly the best part: at this point, it’s all FREE!
This gorgeous new command center is simply amazing! You could spend hours just exploring the interactive exhibits… in fact we have, but most families could probably budget about 30 min to an hour to get their fill.
At first glance, the exhibit hall does not appear to be terribly large, in fact we observed several families, come in, look around the lobby for a moment, and turn to leave as if there was not enough to occupy them. But don’t be fooled, just around the bend there are so many flaps to flip, facts to read, animals to meet, videos to watch, demonstrations to explore, scents to smell, pelts to pet… well you get the idea… that you really should take a spin through the entire exhibition, at least once, if not again and again.
Don’t forget to talk to the helpful staff, many of whom are volunteers. They are, in our experience, quite knowledgeable, exceedingly friendly, and eager to share in your experiences and their own (SO REFRESHING!). So be sure to unload all your questions before, and after, you experience the trails.
*AMAZING IDEA ALERT* One of my favorite amenities at the park has absolutely nothing to do with the structures, except that it can be found in one! Before you leave the Visitor’s Center, be sure to check out this fantastic little number! The “Family Backpack” is simply chuck FULL of fun little items to explore and aid in your exploration!
In exchange for some meager collateral, you can borrow this FANTASTIC(!) and AMAZING(!) exploration pack which includes binoculars, a thermometer, a magnifying glass, all sorts of reference materials, activities and scavenger hunts, and the list goes on! You provide the sun-screen, water, hat and sturdy shoes, and you’re set for your grand adventure on the trails!
Just be back in time to retrieve your driver’s license and return the pack before the 3 PM closing time! 🙂 I can only imagine the shear elation this explorer pack would elicit from a Dora the Explorer fanatic!
Once you’ve wet your palate in the Nature Center, make sure you have plenty of time budgeted for the main course!
|Map of the trails in the Exhibit Hall of the Nature Center… conveniently located under Little Bear’s Finger.|
You could truly spend days exploring the extensive trails amid this nearly 3,000 acre wonderland, both in the preserve portion and adjacent, across the Las Vegas Wash (accessible via Weir Bridge), but you’ll have to take a break, as the park is only open between dawn and dusk.
The Wetlands is one of the few places in our desert where you (and your kiddlets) can weave through tall reeds, mesquite groves, and broad-leaf plants. As you wander along the winding paths, be sure to really take it all in. You will see, hear, and smell many amazing organisms that tend to congregate near water. You’re likely to see all sorts of critters. Birds are especially prevalent, from water fowl to road runners; the park is particularly popular, among the migratory bunch, in Fall and Spring. There are also plenty of amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and invertebrates to keep the little ones busy “hunting.”
On the other side of the bridge spanning the Las Vegas Wash (Weir Bridge), you’ll find even more trails – great for jogging and biking, some are even open to horseback riding.
Be cognizant of the signage, you will see various indications of intended use and other important postings meant to keep the park at its best and your family safe. These fancy little numbers (below) are some of my favorites. If you come across any, see if your little ones can guess what the symbols represent.
Activities and Programming
If the place wasn’t wonderful enough, the amazing people that make it all happen have gone and made if even better with plenty of programs and classes, many of which are free to the public! Space is often limited though, so be sure to RSVP. I already have a Nature Tykes post in the hopper, so stay tuned to learn more about this and other fun events scheduled at the park, but in the mean time, here are a few programs worth checking out:
|Call or visit http://tykes.eventbrite.com to register!|
|For more information and to register for these fun themed, family friendly hikes, go to http://hikes.eventbrite.com|
Cafe Coming Soon
Threats of a Cafe are clearly posted on the premises! I can assure you there will be a post the moment I hear of its opening! I’ve never fancied myself a food critic, but I will jubilantly rise to the occasion for this one, assuming the food is good. My parents always taught me to keep my negative comments to myself, but with the standard set at the rest of the park, I have no reason to doubt you will have a glowing report to read!
The children’s play area on the edge of the park is great, but not what I would consider a standalone draw. This is a cute little park, particularly if you live close enough to walk.
The traversing climbing wall is fun, and there are some fun photo opportunities with the larger than life critters and gargantuan Apache/Moqui Marble and other faux formations.
Getting There and Other Details
HOURS: Trails – Dawn until Dusk
Nature Center – 9 am – 3 pm
There are two parking options: you can either park near the play area on the left (the old parking lot for the park, near the original visitor’s center), or you can continue on down the road to the gorgeous new visitor’s center which has oodles of parking comparatively.