The Bonnie Springs Ranch ~ Blue Diamond, Nevada!

The Bonnie Springs Ranch ~ Blue Diamond, Nevada!

Bonnie Springs is a Spring Mountain Range desert oasis that has been around for a long time.  This mountain range has several natural springs located throughout Red Rock Canyon and the one at the ranch usually flows freely.  Everybody knows that a reliable source of water in a desert is more precious than gold and this is why Bonnie Springs played such an important part in southern Nevada history.

Prior to the Spanish explorers and the age of pioneers, the water resources at Bonnie Springs irrigated Paiute tribal farms in Red Rock Canyon. Spanish explorers followed the native foot trails through this region and eventually Bonnie Springs became a stopover along the old Spanish Trail. In the 1840’s, the Spanish Trail in Southern Nevada became a main thoroughfare for pioneers and gold prospectors heading west to California after the Fremont expedition blazed the Spanish Trail. Once again, Bonnie Springs became known as a good watering hole that was a nice place for a stopover.

Soon after the the gold rush was over, cattle ranchers settled in the area and the natural springs became a valuable resource. The local Paiute farmers continued to work the land near the mountain springs for many years and trade with ranchers was established. When pioneer settlers and homesteaders finally started populating this region, the local Paiute tribes were forced off of their land and the old natural springs heritage was taken away. Soon after, the age of the automobile came to be and the need for trailside watering holes became a thing of the past.  

The importance of the Spanish Trail influence in the early history of Las Vegas cannot be understated.  The mountain springs at ranches in Red Reck Canyon turned into major stopovers for wagon trains headed west to California.  After General Fremont rolled through, many more armies followed and the wild west was tamed.  The water and food resources along the trail through Red Rock Canyon eventually led to sustainable immigrant settlements starting up in what is now known as the Las Vegas Valley.  After the wild west dust settled, ranchers and Mormons basically established the start of the community of Las Vegas and the rest is history.

Even though reliance on only local resources has faded away in modern times, the natural mountain springs in Red Rock Canyon still exist.  When visiting modern Las Vegas, all that it takes to step back in time into the old wild west is to venture uphill on the west side of the valley to Bonnie Springs in Red Rock Canyon.  The water still burbles up from underground, there is green growth and wild animals are drawn to this desert oasis like they always have been.

The origins of what is known as Bonnie Springs Ranch today are quite interesting! A famous sports figure named Bonnie McGaugh purchased many acres of Red Rock Canyon land back in the early 1950s and the old historic Spanish Trail fresh water spring was located on the property.  Bonnie McGaugh was a champion olympic style swimmer and her father did stunt work in classic Hollywood western films.  Bonnie fell in love with the peaceful beauty of Red Rock Canyon and she set out to turn the old ranch into a successful tourist destination. 

Over the years, Bonnie and her husband Al Levinson built the “Old Nevada Town” tourist attraction and an old west style saloon restaurant on the springs property.  A western style resort hotel was also built on the ranch. The Old Nevada Town is a recreation of an old wild west town and this entertainment center has plenty of fun activities going on.   Staged “posse vs outlaw”  gunfights happen everyday.  Tourists that watch the gunfights also have to participate in the show as jurors and witnesses during the trial in the jail house. 

The gunfight show is one of the prime attractions at Bonnie Springs, but there is more!  Old Nevada Town has a wax museum and guided ghost tours too.  Fans of paranormal tourism seem to be enthralled with the ghosts of the old west at Bonnie Springs these days, especially around Halloween! There also is a petting zoo and pony rides for children at the ranch.  There are stables for horses and guided horseback tours of Red Rock Canyon are available.  There is nothing quite so gratifying as seeing the beautiful landscape of Red Rock Canyon on horseback!

The ranch has a hotel that was built with an old western architectural style frontage.  The hotel looks like the old west!  There is a miniature train that carries people from Old Nevada Town to the remote parking lots via the scenic route too.

On the day I visited Bonnie Springs, I spent the afternoon at the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area taking pictures and seeing the majestic sights.  Bonnie Springs Ranch is just a short distance away on State Road 159.  State Road 159 connects with Blue Diamond Road and Charleston Road in Red Rock Canyon on the west side of the Las Vegas Valley.  The Bonnie Springs address is officially in the town Blue Diamond, which is known for being a good place to observe wild burros.

After having a fun day in the Red Rock, I went to the Bonnie Springs Ranch to take pictures and get something to eat.  Of course I was greeted by wild burros when I parked my car.  The wild burros are docile, but it is important to remind folks that the burros truly are wild animals.  Wild burros do bite and kick!  It is against the law to feed wild burros and horses, so keep that in mind when they start begging for a handout.  Just the crinkling sound of a plastic tortilla chip bag will draw the burros in from a hundred yards away!

The original saloon bar has been at the ranch for a much longer time than when Bonnie bought the property and renamed the ranch in 1952.  The Bonnie Springs Bar actually is the oldest bar in the greater Las Vegas area and the antique memorabilia on display confirms all notions.  This old west bar was a local rancher’s and hunter’s watering hole for many decades before Las Vegas grow big enough to appear on a map. The Bonnie Springs Saloon Bar sure is a comfortable spot to gaze at real old western Nevada history and the food is pretty good too!

Many people who visit Las Vegas never realize that there is a beautiful canyon on the west side of Las Vegas that runs along the edge of the Spring Mountains.  Red Rock Canyon is nearly hidden from the Las Vegas Strip vantage point.  After experiencing places in Red Rock Canyon like Bonnie Springs, Las Vegas will seem like it is a million miles away. For this reason, this destination is a great daytime getaway!

When in Las Vegas, visiting the Bonnie Springs Ranch at Red Rock Canyon is simply a must to do!  Bonnie Springs has always been a great destination for tourists, children and group excursions, but changes are threatening to change all this. Nevada has never been a state where the historic past is actively preserved and a recent approval for a housing development at Bonnie Springs has been approved, which may violate Red Rock Canyon preservation statutes. Public concern was raised about this historic site, but not much about the preservation of this old west gem has been mentioned. The time for visiting this one of a kind old west destination may be running out, so visit while you can and show some support for the historic old western heritage of Las Vegas before it disappears altogether!    


Author: wildwestdestinations

I worked as a chef in remote resorts and National Parks, which provided the time to explore western travel destinations. I have a BA Degree in Culinary Management with high honors and currently I am working on a Masters Degree in Adult Education. My food and travel blog writing began as a means to generate income during college and now photo journalism has become my lifestyle.

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