Reflections on our favorite parks for playing, pondering, exploring, and unwinding
Refuge Amid Change: Whitney Mesa Nature Preserve
My love for the outdoors began when I moved to Las Vegas 30 years ago — at Red Rock, at Valley of Fire, and, closer to home, at Whitney Mesa. My friends and I, in our early teens, would amble across Sunset Road to play tag, hide-and-seek, and to explore. Whitney Mesa was wild back then.
Much has changed over the decades. We watched from atop the mesa as our playground was graded to make way for houses that would become Whitney Ranch.
Luckily, all was not lost. The paths we ran 30 years ago have become miles of family-friendly hiking trails. The wide-open views we had from Whitney Mesa’s bluffs now overlook a thriving Henderson. Our former playground now features multiple actual playgrounds. And I now own a home in Whitney Ranch.
Today, as I walk my dog along Whitney Mesa, I marvel over what it’s become. There is now an aquatic center and a recreation center. There are tennis, bocce, and pickleball courts, large grass fields, an archery range, baseball diamonds, and picnic areas. The latest addition: a full-fledged BMX park!
But it’s still the natural side of Whitney Mesa that captures my heart. As I hike its trails, I stop to smell the creosote, to watch the brittlebush bloom with vibrant yellow flowers, to see the globemallow push out bright orange blossoms.
My favorite spot is called Armijo’s Camp, tucked into the cliffs behind the aquatic center. It’s quiet there. Peaceful. I can no longer slide down the hills of Whitney Mesa on an old cardboard box like I did as a teenager, but it’s still a place of refuge, a place where I can connect with the desert I fell in love with so long ago. It’s home. Alan Gegax
1990 Patrick Lane, Henderson
All the Time in the World: Craig Ranch Regional Park
January, last year: I’m stretched out on one of the large concrete blocks that serve as outdoor furniture, taking a selfie. It’s something I rarely do, and when I do do it, it’s like this — not a shot of my face, but of my neck-down form, bundled in cycling gear, with my road bike in the background. I don’t want the picture to be of me, but of the moment I’m having.
In this case, it’s a moment I’ve experienced precious few times in my 51 years: total female freedom. I remember feeling it when, as a teenager, I would borrow my older sister’s 10-speed to ride to the rich neighborhood and home again in the pre-dawn hours before school — my interpretation of the Jane Fonda fitness craze. It got buried over the years but resonated again in my late 30s, when I bought my first road bike and took it and my spaniel Aja on a trip to my native New Mexico. In Albuquerque, I left Aja at the hotel and set out to ride the Paseo del Bosque along the Rio Grande. I got a flat, which I fixed myself, politely turning down the help offered by passing male riders. I was recently divorced then, starting a new life, and I hadn’t realized how much I needed the self-sufficiency, speed, and unmitigated joy of being on a bike.
That chord was being struck again during my North Las Vegas ride last January, when I paused to soak it in at Craig Ranch park. My current husband was working. My girlfriends declined to come along, wary of the drive to my house Downtown and the sketchier parts of the bike trail to get to the payoff. I don’t mind weaving through the homeless encampments and broken glass scattered along the Las Vegas Wash before the nicer parts of trail above Washington Avenue. When you get to a street crossing in North Las Vegas, car drivers always stop for you. There are more everyday bikers here, with less resentment, it seems, for people on two wheels.
And then, midway through the ride, there’s the park, a yawning invitation to rest. I like to tool around the web of sidewalks watching the CrossFit club members cheer each other on, checking out the status of plots in the community garden, banging on the chime poles around the huge steel gazebo. When I’m by myself, I can take all the time I want. I’m fast enough to make up the time. And besides, there’s no school today, and this spot in the sun is nice. Heidi Kyser
628 W. Craig Road, North Las Vegas
Grooving in the Now: Mountain Crest Park
The offspring are really gunning it this morning. Their throws curve through the dewy air, through the many trees. Beautiful. Aerodynamic. Far. Well, of course; they’re young men, reasonably fit. And they’ve studied this sport we’re playing, disc golf. The angles, the plastics, the “hyzer” and “anhyzer,” whatever those are — they get it. But me? My game, never particularly on, is spectacularly off today; these poor trees flinch when I draw back to throw. Meanwhile, my aching back, knees, and shoulders comprise a bleak summary of age-related fubars. Here is where the rising arc of my sons’ physical prowess really diverges from the scarily falling arc of their father’s. But, hey, that’s life, and what’re you gonna do, except keep playing.
Here: Mountain Crest Park, near Centennial Hills. Thirty-eight green acres that snuggle a moderately challenging, 5,205-foot disc-golf course among the sidewalks, play areas, and community center. There’s a nice rhythm to the course layout, shorter holes poised against longer ones, changes in elevation, trees in the way to keep it interesting.
It’s not quite 9 a.m. on a Sunday. You could sprinkle a thesaurus’ worth of synonyms for “pleasant” onto the scene: An old lady walks her dog; two men stroll in muted conversation; a family loiters by the kiddie equipment. #classicparkstuff
Also, it’s 31 miles from where I live. I can disc-golf closer to home. So why am I here?
Because this is where my kids play. So it’s where I play. Therefore, it’s my favorite park. Look, generally speaking, a park is a park; I like ’em all. Some are bigger, have spiffier amenities. Some activate their neighborhoods in vital ways. But, mostly, they’re not all that dissimilar. With its tree-filtered sunlight and blanket of suburban hush, Mountain Crest offers the same respite vibe as the parks near my house. That’s good; it reinforces the democratic ideal of parks as a communal resource — everyone should feel welcome in all of them. So what distinguishes each is us, the users, what we do there. In my case, I have great memories of my kids falling off the slides and swings at other parks. But Mountain Crest is where they play now. And while I’m not as old as my knees make me feel, I am increasingly mindful of Jonathan Swift’s truism that “observation is an old man’s memory” — meaning, I think, that it’s time to stop bookmarking experiences for later appreciation and, in the time I have left, groove on what’s in front of me. Like my sons’ excellent tee shots on Hole 5 at our current favorite park. My turn. Stand back, boys! Look out, trees! I’m 20 over par, so the old man’s gonna crank this one. Scott Dickensheets
4701 N. Durango Drive
Downtown’s Everything Bagel: Justice Myron E. Leavitt & Jaycee Community Park
This was simply called Jaycee Park until 2012, when it was enrobed in its current mouthful of memorial rebranding. It makes sense, I guess: the late Judge Leavitt lived in the area and coached youth sports here. But the propulsive brio of “Jaycee” (it’s a youth service organization) feels like a better fit, especially when you visit this lively Downtown park on the weekend. Because Jaycee Park is in the thick of the city, it’s not so much a proposed escape from the urban as it is a particular extension of the urban. Jaycee is an extract of Downtown’s demographics, cultures, preoccupations — and, yes, problems — incidentally concentrated in a leisure space. Roll call from a recent Saturday: a soccer match bebopping on the east field (it must be a league game, because there are silky blue and yellow-green uniforms involved that look super-legit); in the small skatepark tucked in the northeast corner, skaters carve the juicy concrete pocket and grind the benches and blocks; in the dog run, pooches of every size swarm, break, and scatter in a pheromonal canine rave; and middle-aged joggers weeble by on the perimeter path that loops the entire spread.
Ain’t gonna lie, though, Jaycee Community Park can be a hive of small, stinging exasperations if you have an overdeveloped sense of civic politesse. For instance, you might get nearly creamed by the two infuriating tots on a buzzing minibike; there’s a swaggering extra from The Wire spraying tepid R&B all over our park vibes with his boom box; and in some of the covered picnic areas, you see the blurring of the line between an ambitious picnic and the beginnings of a homeless encampment. At times, your inner mom cop wants to call a manager. Now, I suppose you could retreat to your Netflix and SodaStream castle and bahrump about the devolution of public space and the tragedy of the commons, etc. Or you can consider these minor-key aggravations of public space as an expression of its most fluid and promising attribute: It’s the way we use particular parks, not their rule sets and ordained functions, that ultimately determine their role and personality. In other words, if you don’t like the way it’s used, use it more your way. What are you waiting for? A little bit of everyone is using Jaycee Park, and you should, too. Andrew Kiraly
2100 E. St. Louis Ave.
Walking Meditation: Floyd Lamb Park at Tule Springs
When Floyd Lamb Park was transferred from state to city jurisdiction in 2007, there were community fears that the 2,000-acre oasis would somehow stumble on the threshold and become prey to developers colonizing Centennial Hills during those heady days of the runaway housing bubble. You have to wonder whether the recession saved the park.
The northwest’s suburban homes and ranch estates hug the Tule Springs area on three sides, but, fortunately, the park proper is buffered by big, raw desert. And that’s the key virtue of Floyd Lamb Park at Tule Springs: While the city has curled around it with subdivisions and strip malls, Floyd Lamb Park still feels like a true escape. You can settle in pondside with your cooler, cast your rod amid the swaying reeds, and truly forget you’re in Las Vegas.
What I love in particular about Tule Springs is how its landscape of gentle hills creates an earthen scrollwork where countless dips and groves create fertile spaces for solitude and reflection — while still within eyeshot of a family picnic here or child’s birthday party there; the literal lay of the land siphons the decibels off everything and serves up a softer version of life’s clamor. Even the placidly indifferent geese peppering the park’s slopes seem to be feeling it; no hater psycho geese up in here. And when you get the urge to stroll, striding up an incline never fails to reward you with a soft breeze. To me, it’s that kind of park, a park for rumination and meditative strolling.
Adding a slightly funereal touch are the numerous memorial plaques, benches, and plinths, some recognizing lives cut short in their teens and twenties. I spent a good amount of a Saturday midmorning pondering them in that state of cordial, all-purpose solemnity usually inspired by cemeteries. It adds an elegiac grace note that is not unwelcome. Andrew Kiraly
9200 Tule Springs Road