Fond Memories of Warm Springs

Warm Springs Ranch

Warm Springs Ranch

I remember a natural springs “oasis” north of Las Vegas where my family would picnic and swim. Is it still there?

Whenever someone mentions “Warm Springs,” the memories flood in. My family would barbecue, relax among palm trees, splash in small streams and swim in spring-fed pools. My favorite was the gravel-bottomed swim hole nestled among the trees. Small fish populated the springs and swam with us as crystal water gurgled at a sublime 85-ish degrees. Through the eyes of a child raised on Disney and Robert Louis Stevenson, a day at Warm Springs was a real Swiss Family Robinson moment.

The area—about 50 miles north of Las Vegas off the Moapa exit from Interstate 15—was built up by a few mid-20th century visionaries hoping to capitalize on the advantages of warm water bubbling from the desert floor. Francis Taylor built the 1,200-acre Warm Springs Ranch, later purchased by Howard Hughes. After Hughes’ 1976 death, 450 acres were sold to the LDS church, and when ranching efforts fell flat, the church sold all but 73 acres, using them as a retreat. Nearby was the 100-acre Desert Oasis Warm Springs, built by former Aladdin manager Bob Plummer and operated in the 1970s and 1980s as an open-to-the-public resort. Your memories could stem from either location.

Several events conspired against the future of both the Warm Springs Ranch and Desert Oasis as we knew them. First was the 1979 establishment of the Moapa Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Next came the 1990 conversion of Desert Oasis into a private timeshare, followed by a 1994 fire that shut it down. (It was eventually purchased and donated to the National Wildlife Refuge.) Also impactful was the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s 2007 purchase of 1,200 immediately surrounding acres—ostensibly to protect the endangered Moapa dace fish (whose population exists solely in the springs water). Some suggested the SNWA’s motivation was to secure water rights—cynicism supported by a 2006 federal agreement permitting the SNWA to pump from Coyote Springs so long as it protects the dace. Finally, on July 1, 2010, the LDS’s Warm Springs Ranch was lost to fire.

Since then, almost 1,000 palm trees have been removed from the area in an effort to restore it to nature. At the Warm Springs Natural Area (now part of the Wildlife Refuge), visitors are again welcome … just don’t expect a resort-style oasis. Today, it feels more like the Wetlands Park or Las Vegas Springs Preserve— wonderful, but very different.