Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway

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This page last updated on 04/13/2017    
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EP-Spring Mountain National Recreation Area - -2
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Directions: From Las Vegas, head North on US-95, turn left at NV-157 (Kyle Canyon Road) crossing over Southbound US-95. Take NV-157 up Mount Charleston approximately 17 miles (Fig. 02). When you come to a roundabout, go half-way around to enter the Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway center. Total distance from downtown Las Vegas is about 35 miles.
07/09/2015 Trip Notes: Today, along with three other friends, I made my second visit to the Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway center. Though the purpose of today's visit was to hike the Escarpment Trail behind the visitor center, I actually spent a little more time walking around the area taking more pictures (Figs. 03 thru 08), including some interior shots of the visitor center's gift shop and interpretive display area. Click here for pictures and a description of our hike of the escarpment trail ... Escarpment Trail at the Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway Center
Outside, behind the visitor center (Fig. 03) there is a monument (Fig. 06) to the seven Paiute tribes that view the mountain as their ancestral home, and a Cold War memorial (Figs. 04 & 05) to honor victims of a plane that crashed near Mount Charleston during the 1950's en route to Area 51. The crash was classified until just a few years ago — even family members had no idea how their loved ones had perished.  With Mt. Charleston providing a fitting backdrop, the memorial itself is constructed of gray and black granite. In addition to acknowledgements and a John Kennedy quote, the monument bears this dedication: “In memory of the Silent Heroes of the Cold War, the men and women who labored under a veil of secrecy, often putting their lives in peril for the good of the nation. Our peace and prosperity will always depend on the bravery of unsung Americans willing to make the ultimate sacrifice without recognition.”  (view the plaque shown below) See the section titled "History Behind the Cold War Memorial" at the bottom of the page for more information.

Inside the visitor center, in addition to a large gift shop, information desk (Fig. 07), and interpretive display area, probably the most unique feature is the etched windows that span the entire length of the building. Created by the local artist, Austine Wood Comarow, these 25 window panels depict pictures and scenes of plants and animals that are indigenous to the Spring Mountains area. When viewed normally, without polarized lenses, they appear as any other normally etched glass. However, when viewed with a polarized lens, they turn into "full-color" scenes as seen in (Fig. 08). Even though this prolific artist has had dozens of exhibitions and commissions all over the U.S. since the early 80's, I feel that this is one of her most impressive works. Click the following link to learn more about the artist and her work ... Polarized Light Art by Austine Wood Comarow.
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05/14/2015 Trip Notes: At the end of our hikes to Big Falls and Mary Jane Falls on today’s visit to the Mt. Charleston Wilderness Area, we stopped at the recently opened Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway center (Fig. 03) for lunch. With its location, this visitor center is truly a “gateway” to the Spring Mountains Recreation Area. We were all amazed at how much work has been put into this place. It includes landscaped parking lots, an education building that can be rented out for events, two small amphitheaters, an 800 square foot educational building, picnic shelters for family cookouts, a “meadows” area for kids to play; and a “solitude node” for serene contemplation, plus hiking, biking and horseback riding trails.

DescriptionPerched on a slope just downhill from the Mt. Charleston Resort, on the site of a former golf course, the recently opened Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway center (Figs. 01 & 09) offers fabulous mountain and canyon views in every direction. More specifically, it is located at milepost 5.1 on Kyle Canyon Road (Highway 157) in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. This new $10 million facility offers a 4,500-square-foot visitors center, landscaped parking lots, an "education building" that can be rented out for events, two small amphitheaters, an 800 square foot educational building, shaded picnic shelters and a huge built-in stainless steel grill for cookouts, a “meadows” area for kids to play in; and a “solitude node” for serene contemplation, plus hiking, biking and horseback riding trails.

Accessible by one of two roundabouts, its builders carved levels into the flat site to heighten its drama and then organized the site elements around a landscaped dry stream-bed that will drain water off the site during storms. The largest building on the site is the Visitor Center, a striking, butterfly-roofed structure clad in textured concrete and Cor-Ten panels that will rust and develop a nice patina with time (Fig. 01). Its heating and cooling system relies on an eco-friendly system of buried heat-exchanging coils. Its computer-controlled windows open and close in response to sun and temperature changes. Lofty beamed ceilings soar over polished concrete floors. The paneling on the interior walls is old-growth redwood salvaged from old picnic tables and benches. Inside, visitors can learn about the entire Spring Mountains recreation area while taking in breath taking views through a floor-to-ceiling glass wall.

From the back of the visitor center you can see the Mount Charleston Resort, located just a few miles north (Fig. 10). There are five designated trails in the cliffs and canyon behind the visitor center that range from 0.5 miles to 4 miles. Between touring the site, hiking the trails and enjoying a picnic lunch, you can certainly make this destination a full daytrip without ever going anywhere else in the area. OBTW – Great happy hour 4-6 pm at the bar in the Mt. Charleston Resort just up the street. Click here for pictures and more info … Resort at Mt. Charleston.
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History Behind the Cold War Memorial: Outside the visitor center's rear entrance (Fig. 03), it is impossible not to notice a large mangled airplane propeller attached to a tall monolith (Fig. 04). This remaining artifact, which now serves as the entrance to a new national memorial dedicated to the “Silent Heroes of the Cold War,” came from the wreckage left by a C-54 transport plane from Burbank California.that crashed into the snow-capped, 12,000-foot Mount Charleston peak in November, 1955. On a regular commute, a crew of 14 men, including an air force crew, Lockheed and Hycon engineers, CIA personnel and scientists, were bound for Watertown, the then top secret U-2 test site, now known as Area 51. All 14 on board perished.
One of the United State's greatest "Cold War" secrets, the U-2 spy plane was constructed and tested at the highly classified location in the Nevada desert, the secret “Watertown” airstrip along Nevada’s dry Groom Lake bed, 90 miles northwest of the Las Vegas Valley, now known as Area 51. Upon arrival, the team was supposed to perform a flight test of the U-2 spy plane equipped with long-range cameras designed to fly at an altitude of 70,000 feet to observe Soviet missile sites while staying out of range of MiG fighter jets. The U-2 spy planes were designed and built by Lockheed for the CIA in the early 1950’s, to conduct clandestine over-flights of Soviet Russia, China, Cuba and other denied areas of the world. They became the most important source of Soviet intelligence in US history at that time. Our overt knowledge of the U-2 came crashing into the world’s collective consciousness on May 1st 1960, when Francis Gary Powers was shot down in his U-2 over Sverdlovsk, Russia.
Unfortunately, on that day, the team’s transport plane never made it to Groom Lake. Having been instructed to fly in radio silence, the pilot became disoriented while flying through a 60-knot crosswind under visual flight rules during a blizzard. Instead of avoiding Mount Charleston, he was mistakenly on a path toward the peak above Kyle Canyon. The plane clipped the ridge 50 feet below the crest, skipped about 60 feet, and slid another 20 feet before it came to a rest and partially burned. After a mountaineering team on skis and snowshoes from March Air Force Base in California failed to locate the crash site, about 20 men on horseback from the Clark County Mounted Posse and two Air Force officers reached the wreckage to recover the bodies and the U-2 project’s top-secret paperwork. Much of the plane’s fuselage remained intact on the ridge until the summer of 1956 when, at the request of the Forest Service, Air Force crews blew it up with dynamite because its precarious positioning posed a safety hazard.
Some of the families weren’t aware that their loved ones had worked for the CIA, and most had not been fully informed about the details of the mission they were on. It was more than 40 years before the government let the families know what actually happened. While the memorial will honor those 14 U-2 engineers and flight crew who died that day, it also recognizes the tens of thousands who served in the Cold War that spanned five decades to avert a nuclear conflict with the former Soviet Union.
Note: Every attempt is made to provide accurate information, but occasionally depictions are inaccurate by error of mapping, navigation or cataloging. The information on this site is provided without any warranty, express or implied, and is for informational and historical purposes only.