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Question of the Day July 6, 2015

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In the Los Angeles Times today there was mention of Bonnie Springs Ranch which is near Red Rock Canyon. In all of my trips to Las Vegas and being an LVA member, I have never heard of it. It sounds a bit like Oatman [a former mining town and current tourist attraction in Arizona] but is only 22 miles from the Strip. Is it worth checking out?


We think so. There’s a lot to see – but first a bit of historical background. The ranch takes its name from former owner Bonnie McGaugh, who purchased the tumbledown property (dating back to 1843) and opened a bar on it. Together with husband Al Levinson, McGaugh began operating the ranch as a tourist attraction in 1958, adding to it bit by bit, including the stable that was built in 1963. The following year, the Levinsons opened a restaurant that operates to this day. Its ceiling used to be festooned with neckties. Why? Levinson had been refused entry to the Desert Inn for showing up wearing a bolo tie, so any patrons at his restaurant who came wearing ties had to surrender them to the proprietor, who hung them from the ceiling. Despite this necktie-confiscation policy, business at Bonnie Springs Ranch flourished.

The ranch is fed by a natural spring that, in centuries past, sustained the Paiute Indian inhabitants of the valley, before settlers ran them off. It was also a stopover on the Old Spanish Trail that ran through Red Rock Canyon en route to California. John C. Fremont’s 1846 expedition to California was replenished at what would become Bonnie Springs. As mentioned, a ranch had already been built at the spring, but it would fall into disuse.

In 1972, the Levinsons began expanding the original ranch into Old Nevada, a collection of Wild West-themed buildings and tourist attractions whose amenities ranged from fake gunfights to a waxworks museum and a 50-room motel. It was during this period that the ranch’s signature petting zoo began to grow from one sheep to a veritable Noah’s Ark that includes peacocks, kangaroos, miniature burros, chicks, turtles, porcupines, pot-bellied pigs, and Canadian lynx. (Wayne Newton donated two miniature goats as well.) The zoo is open week-round, although it’s slightly cheaper to visit on Monday and Tuesday, when it’s $7 a head. The rest of the week it’s $7 for kids and $10 for adults.

If you have a taste for bison burger, the restaurant is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (later on weekends). Old Nevada can be experienced Wednesday through Sunday, including a thrice-daily melodrama and hanging, and—weekends only—a posse show. For $60, you can go horseback riding and Bonnie Springs Ranch (now in the hands of the Levinson children) can arrange to hold horseback weddings, if that’s what you and your intended desire. For saddle tramps under age five, there are pony rides. There’s also a miniature train that takes you on a loop around Old Nevada.

The motel rooms come in several categories. Kids are welcome in standard rooms and kitchen suites, but the themed rooms – Get-A-Way, Spanish, Peacock, American Indian, Covered Wagon, 1890s – are adult-only propositions. Motel guests get free admission to Old Nevada.

You may have seen Bonnie Springs Ranch on the TV series Ghost Adventures, as it has more than its share of alleged hauntings, including a merry-go-round that has been seen to spin on windless days and a shadow apparition in the opera house. Poltergeists in the wax museum liked to move the figures around (at least until management nailed the waxworks to the floor) and make noise. History, good food, cute animals, and a sizeable dash of the paranormal … you could say Bonnie Springs Ranch has it all.

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