Abundant water and food resources attracted prehistoric peoples, Native Americans, outlaws, ranchers and early settlers to the Moapa Valley and Warm Springs area for centuries.
All of the region’s inhabitants have left their mark on the land and, in many cases, evidence of their homes, food sources and ways of life.
Ancient and native people
The archaeological record tells us the Southern Paiute people and their ancestors lived in the Moapa Valley for thousands of years before the first European settlers arrived. Surveys of the area identified prehistoric habitations, artifacts and rock shelters located on terraces above the floodplain.
The first people to enjoy the spoils of the land were hunters and gatherers. In addition to hunting bighorn sheep and smaller animals such as rabbits, these native ancestors collected grass seeds, berries, cactus fruit and mesquite pods to complete their diet.
Thanks to the discovery of an ancient corn cob and radiocarbon dating, scientist can trace evidence of farming in Warm Springs back nearly 2,000 years. Early crops included corn (maize), squash, beans and gourds.
Moapa Paiute House
Las Vegas Paiute Encampment, 1900
European and Euro-American settlers
Around 1776, Spanish explorers made their way through the region and established the Spanish Trail connecting Santa Fe to Los Angeles. The trail passes by the Warm Springs area about eight miles to the southeast. The Spring Rock Shelter located in Warm Springs is believed to have been used by the Paiutes to escape the Spanish slave raids that occurred along the trail.
The first Euro-Americans to settle in the region were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints —the Mormons. The majority of the early Mormon settlements were located in the lower Muddy River area.
Around the same time the Mormons were settling in the lower Muddy River area, Texas outlaw Alexander Dry was hiding in the Warm Springs area and raising stolen cattle making Dry the first cattle rancher in the Warm Springs area.
Mormon settlers eventually settled in the Warm Springs Area building corrals, irrigation canals, fences and homes. Evidence of these settlements can be found throughout Warm Springs.
Warm Springs Ranch 1941 station wagon
Twentieth century to present
In the early 1900’s, the Warm Springs Area was largely divided by the Home Ranch to the southeast and the Baldwin Ranch to the northwest. In 1950, the two ranches became one property when they, and several other small parcels, were purchased by Francis Taylor. Taylor renamed the large property Warm Springs Ranch and continued ranching and farming.
In 1971, Howard Hughes purchased the area, reportedly after seeing it from the sky during a flight. Under Hughes’ ownership, ranching and farming continued. Showgirls from the Las Vegas strip visited the springs to sun themselves and relax under palm-thatched cabanas, while area residents swam in the natural spring pools.
After Hughes’ death, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints purchased the ranch, but later sold all but a 72-acre recreational area surrounding the largest spring.
When the property became available in 2005, the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) recognized the area’s conservation value and in 2007 acquired the 1,220-acre parcel.
SNWA manages the land as a natural area and is restoring the springs and their surroundings for the benefit of native wildlife including the Moapa dace. The site was renamed the Warm Springs Natural Area to commemorate its new purpose and opened to the public in December 2017.