While the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument is five years old, it, of course, protects things that are much, much older.
It's home to fossils of mammoths, lions and camels that once roamed the area during the Ice Age.
The monument’s existence really came about because of residents and volunteers who pushed Congress for its creation, with the help of former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
They call themselves the Protectors of Tule Springs, and they’ve logged more than 40,000 hours looking after the park. Recently, the National Park Service recognized them with an outstanding volunteer award.
“This award has given all of our volunteers that pat on the back, those people who have put in whether it’s 10 hours, 100 hours or thousands of hours,” said Jill DeStefano, the president of Protectors of Tule Springs.
DeStefano said the volunteers do whatever the park service asks of them to protect and maintain the monument. They help survey the fossil beds and conduct hikes for the general public.
But before the group started working with the park service, the Protectors of the Tule Springs were working diligently to save the area from development.
DeStefano first went out to the site in 2006, when it was being managed by the Bureau of Land Management. A guide pointed to a mammoth fossil laying out on the ground.
“I was just in awe. I just couldn’t believe in a big, exciting city like Las Vegas there could be such a thing,” she said. “The abundance of fossils out there is truly amazing.”
The question now is what exactly to do with the site.
Diane Keith is the superintendent of the national monument. She said one of their first steps has been to let people know the rules have changed. Under the BLM, activities were allowed that are not allowed by the National Park Service.
“What we’re trying to do is just let people know that the National Park Service is now managing, and we don’t allow target shooting and we don’t allow off-road vehicles," she said.
The park service is also assessing what kind of a visitor center is needed - if any, because the Fish and Wildlife Service has a center in nearby Corn Creek and the state is building a center on its property, which is within the boundaries of the monument.
There is also the question of entrance and entrance fees.
“Because it basically is an urban park, and it will be more so an urban park in the future as there is more development, a lot of the things that we have to figure out is where the best place to enter and which resources are the best to introduce to people and what we need to protect,” Keith said.
For now, people can see areas that have already been excavated but both Keith and DeStefano remind everyone not to touch anything.
“We ask people: Don’t pick them up. Don’t touch them if you so see a bone. The biggest thing for paleontologists and geologist is if you take something out of context then they don’t know how old it is. They don’t know what other animals it may have been around at that time.”
While it might be tough to see some of the fossils, because they are the same color as their surroundings, DeStefano said the area can be a wonderful getaway just minutes from suburban Las Vegas.
"When you get out into the quiet canyons, it’s just a wonderful place to explore and get away from the noise of the city,” she said.
Jill DeStefano, president, Protectors of Tule Springs; Diane Keith, superintendent, Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument
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