What is TUSK?
Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument, or TUSK (the National Park Service acronym), contains the single largest assemblage of Ice Age fossils in the Southwest, spanning geologic history from 7,000 to 200,000 years past. It is a continuous record found nowhere else.
The area has been studied since the early 1900s. Most notably, a four-month intensive study in 1962 which was chronicled by National Geographic, catalogued thousands of Ice Age mammal fossils including Columbian mammoth, ground sloth, American lion, ancient camel, dire wolf, saber-toothed cat, bison and three ancient species of horse.
The primary geological feature in the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument is the Las Vegas Wash. That wash is the only drainage system in the Las Vegas Hydrologic Basin. All waters in the Basin eventually flow to the Wash and then into Lake Mead and the Colorado River.
The almost 23,000 acres of the National Monument also supports four unique and imperiled plants, the Las Vegas buckwheat, Merriam’s bearpoppy, the Las Vegas bearpoppy and the halfring milkvetch. The area also supports Joshua trees and several species of cacti.
It provides important habitat for the threatened desert tortoise, burrowing owls, kit foxes and several other wildlife species, which are recognized for protection under the Clark County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan. Additionally, four species of raptors utilize the Wash for meeting their habitat needs – kestrels, barn owls, burrowing owls, and great horned owls.
It’s no wonder that the Protectors of Tule Springs and our partners fought so hard to protect this important land!
Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument is located within 30 minutes of the neon lights of Las Vegas, Nevada. As a new national monument, the infrastructure will take time to develop, but there are lots of places you can explore on your own.
Protectors of Tule Springs has been leading interpretive hikes to areas both within and without the Monument for several years. We now assist the Park Service as volunteers on scheduled hikes.
The first interpretive trail system is being developed near the urban core of North Las Vegas, which will provide an opportunity to Las Vegas residents and visitors to explore the Monument and introduce them to the unique geologic features and ecosystem that led to these rich fossil deposits.
Because Tule Springs is a new park, there are no visitors’ centers, designated trails, facilities, or parking areas, but there is still plenty to explore. To access the park, people can park on nearby public roads in the cities of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, and enter the monument on foot. Visitors can explore the park on their own from dawn to dusk each day. Protectors suggests parking and starting a hike at either the north end of Durango (where the road ends) or at the end of Aliante Parkway to explore what used to be the Eglington Preserve.
It’s important to remember that all park resources – fossils, plants, animals, artifacts and rocks – are to remain as you find them. Federal regulations prohibit off-roading in the park and vehicles are only permitted on approved roads. For more guidance on things to do and park regulations, please visit the National Park Service site.
Due to its proximity to the developed portion of Las Vegas, many areas in the Monument have been severely impacted by dumping, off-road driving and shooting activities. Protectors has hosted several cleanup events, but many more will be needed in the coming years. Protectors assists the Park Service with the recruitment and training of volunteers for these efforts, as well as assisting the NPS with the costs of these cleanup activities.
In an arid desert wash on the northern outskirts of Las Vegas remain thousands of Ice Age fossils. Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument has a rich history of discovery and has been called one of the most significant fossil beds in North America. Thousands of Pleistocene-era fossils have been found in Tule Springs, and thousands remain for scientific excavation, examination and public viewing. What makes this area unique is the vast span of time the fossils represent. Fossils and fossilized pollen in the area span nearly 250,000 years of time, offering important insight into at least two Ice Ages and multiple warming and cooling periods.
Herds of Ice Age Columbian mammoths – the largest of elephant species with tusks longer than six feet and molars the size of a human head – once roamed the lush and verdant wetlands of Las Vegas. In an area alternately known as the Upper Las Vegas Wash or Tule Springs, their fossil remains lay undisturbed for centuries.
Camelops, larger versions of today’s Bactrian camels, and American lions, weighing up to 1100 pounds, also made this area their home along with at least three species of ancient horse and massive sloths the size of sports cars. The dire wolf, saber-toothed cat, bison, ice age horse, and even llamas lived here.
The Protectors of Tule Springs want you and future generations to be able to observe the paleontologists at work. As the National Monument is developed, you will be drawn into a setting 7,000 to 250,000 years ago when this area was lush with foliage, when massive wildlife roamed.
As it is developed, Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument will provide educational opportunities, especially first-hand experience in several fields of earth science, for students in Clark County and the surrounding areas. The area is also supported and utilized by state higher education institutions, and is expected to be a significant educational and research resource far into the future.
Further Information/Teacher Resources:
- USGS Paleohydrology of Desert Wetlands
- NPS Geologic Resources Inventory Scoping Summary, Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument
- Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument Resources for Teachers (including lab activity)
- National Park Service Washington Office Education Page
- U.S. Geologic Survey Teacher Resources
- John Dey Fossil Beds National Monument Education Page
- Smithsonian Natural History Museum Classroom Resources
- University of California Museum of Paleontology Education Resources
- General Paleontology Resources by Ewan Wolff, Montana State University
- Quaternary International Article “The Tule Springs local fauna: Rancholabrean vertebrates from the Las Vegas Formation, Nevada”
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