If you've seen the award-winning hit film Free Solo, then you're familiar with legendary rock climber Alex Honnold. This Las Vegas resident has been very outspoken on the subject of preventing urban sprawl into Red Rock Canyon. Sadly, Honnold's efforts just hit a major setback.
The southern end of Red Rock Canyon is home to a quaint attraction known as Bonnie Springs Ranch. Part zoo and part nature preserve with a heaping helping of old West charm, the 64-acre park is one of those charming throwbacks that need to be visited at least once.
Bonnie Springs was once a stopover for wagon trains journeying west. The natural springs on this land created an oasis for parched, weary travelers. In 1952 the land was purchased by Bonnie McGaugh Levinson. What started out as a place for grub and horseback riding became a full-on ranch attraction by the 1980s. A 48-room motel, which offers a horseback breakfast ride for guests, still operates there today.
When word got out earlier this month that the property was being demolished to develop a housing community, the response was immediate. Petitions have garnered thousands of signatures while guests have been lining up by the hundreds. They're coming one last time to rekindle childhood memories and make new ones with their families.
Right now Bonnie Springs Ranch is operating as if nothing has changed. The restaurant/bar is serving cocktails and hearty meals while the Wild West shows are still creating laughter. Animals at the not-for-profit petting zoo continue to follow guests around, hoping for a few handfuls of feed from coin-operated dispensers.
Look a little deeper, though, and you'll sense a sadness that seems to have enveloped this place. Employees have been answering endless questions about a closing date and "What's to become of the animals?" They're distributing a flyer that describes the planned sale, and what the region can expect in the way of impact.
The new owners of the property, Joel Laub and Randall Jones, are working overtime to assure protesters that their future housing community will respect the natural landscape and environment. Nevertheless, concerns about infrastructure and usage of protected lands to access the property have raised concerns.
One selling point to prospective homeowners is that the surrounding land is owned by the state's Bureau of Land Management. Therefore, it cannot be commercialized or zoned for additional housing. Interestingly, the environmental ramifications of the new development, along with the need to run new utilities to through those protected lands, could cause the project to be delayed, or even halted.
Then there are grassroots efforts to declare Bonnie Springs Ranch a historic landmark. According to one staffer, over 30,000 signatures have been received. But since Bonnie Springs is on private property, the current owners are under no obligation to accept a protective declaration. And it couldn't be used as a tool to block the sale anyway.
The days of the cowboys and llamas at Bonnie Springs Ranch are numbered. No specific closing date has been announced, but an early March 2019 shuttering seems likely. All of the animals will need to be relocated first, and perhaps the Western town and train ride might somehow join them at a new site.
But for now, visitors and locals alike should make it a point to experience Bonnie Springs Ranch while they still can. It's a piece of vintage nostalgia that deserves a place in your own collection of Las Vegas memories.
Bonnie Springs Ranch is located at 16395 Bonnie Springs Road in Red Rock Canyon, a short drive southwest of the Las Vegas Strip. Restaurant/bar is open Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. with extended hours on weekends. Western Town and shows are currently operating on a "winter schedule." Visit www.bonniesprings.com for more information.
(Photo: Sam Novak)