Twenty miles north of the Las Vegas strip in the Nevada desert, lay some of the earth’s most well-preserved mammoth, ground sloth, elephant and camel bones. In Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument (pronounced Tool-ly Springs), Pleistocene fossils, some as old as 250,000 years, are seen exposed from the dusty rock or hidden underneath layers of badlands, just waiting to be discovered by a team of paleontologists.
The monument was recently designated in December 2014 but the history of the site and those who have worked to protect it have been around longer.
Protectors of Tule Springs started as a dedicated group of five women who saw the significance of the Upper Las Vegas Wash and thought it would be a shame for the area to be built on by the sprawl of housing slated to crop up along the desert landscape.
Jill DeStefano, President of the Protectors of Tule Springs, said she attended a meeting with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 2006 when they owned 13,000 acres and had performed an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to determine the site’s preservation needs. At that time, the BLM and the San Bernardino County Museum had discovered 438 fossil sites, with more than half containing the Columbian Mammoth. When Jill’s group formed in 2006, they saw that suburban sprawl was imminent and sought to protect the landscape and those fossils.
Fighting Back to Protect Ice Age Fossils
According to Jill, it was at that time that Protectors of Tule Springs rallied forces to protect Tule Springs and educate the public about the area’s significance as a unique geologic site.
“Once we started to give presentations to community organizations and public officials about the importance of the 250,000 years of fossil history, the ground swell of support to preserve the area got the attention of the elected officials in the Las Vegas Valley. In 2009, when the National Park Service (NPS) expressed interest in managing Tule Springs, the local cities and county then came on board. The Air Force and the Las Vegas Paiutes also wanted to preserve Tule Springs as a protected a vital air corridor and sacred Indian lands, respectively. Tule Springs’ preservation became a win-win for all entities.”
Jill DeStefano leads a field trip to the "Big Dig" trench site, first excavated in 1962.
At the time, the National Parks Conservation Association also played a role advocating for Tule Springs, calling for elected officials to designate it as a monument and educating the public about its significance.
Protectors of Tule Springs spent the next few years inviting public officials to view the area and see the fossils first-hand while working with the BLM to protect as many acres as possible from development. Ultimately, collaboration, diverse partnerships, consistent efforts to educate the public and “thousands of hours” of volunteer work led to 22, 650 acres of Tule Springs land designated as a national monument through an act of Congress and under new management by the NPS.
More to Do and to Dig at Tule Springs
Jill said that seeing that many acres of land designated for protection was a thrill: “Now that advocacy has preserved Tule Springs as a NPS site, we are devoted to being the volunteers to help ready the monument for visitors.” Since 2006, her group has grown to 300 members and has raised more than $23,000 to help with informational kiosks and displays.
While still establishing their official status as the monument’s nonprofit partner, they are continuing to fundraise with creative events such as the “Mammoth Money Drive” where students are shown educational videos about the land and invited to donate pennies to the cause. They also provide educational tours, conduct clean-ups and continue to teach the community about the importance of environmental stewardship.
Protectors of Tule Springs' first monument clean-up with NPS - April 2015
The ultimate goal is to have a visitor center (or perhaps two centers) to serve as interest points to a wider audience and to display unique fossils, such as an 11 foot mammoth tusk or a saber-toothed tiger excavated from the site. For now, as the monument works to archive its fossils, Protectors of Tule Springs stands ready to help the monument succeed and activate their members to tell the story of this impressive site.
11 foot tusk found in a quarry with three mammoths.
Ice Age bison bones jacketed for removal from site.
Learn More about Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument
Visit the NPS website and view a recent article exploring this site's features. To learn more about Protectors of Tule Springs, check out their website.