Tule Springs Fossil Beds: Nevada’s Newest National Park

Last month, my esteemed colleague Trevor Bexon from our Reno office wrote of the fantastic beauties of Great Basin National Park. In his blog he stated: “If national parks were considered children, then Great Basin National Park is Nevada’s only child.”

As it turns out, only a few days after Trevor’s blog was posted, the Tule Springs Fossil Beds were designated a National Monument and part of the National Park Service (NPS). As an official from NPS recently informed me: “I’m happy to say that as of December 19, 2014, Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument is a National Park. The website should be live in about two weeks. You can find us on Facebook now at www.facebook.com/tulespringsnps.”


Nevada’s newest national park – Tule Springs Fossil Beds. Photos courtesy of the National Park Service.

Say what? I thought it was a national monument. Isn’t there some distinction? Again, the official was happy to clarify that while some of the National Park Service’s areas are governed slightly differently, and some actually bear the name “national park” in the title, all areas run by the National Park Service are indeed national parks, even though they carry various designations like “monument” or “recreation area.”

In fact, when I clicked on the link in Trevor’s post about Great Basin where he makes reference to the “47th National Park,” it takes you to a page with a map of the United States and the page is entitled “Find a Park.” And when you click on Nevada, the page lists six national parks in our state (not including last month’s creation of Tule Springs, which I’m sure will be added soon). Technically, part of Death Valley is in Nevada as well. So this is all about semantics… a tangled web of misunderstanding regarding the National Park System nomenclature.

Either way, it’s safe to say that thanks to Congress and President Obama, we have a new national park in Nevada called Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument, giving Clark County two national parks (the other is Lake Mead National Recreation Area). Tule Springs is rich with Ice Age (Pleistocene) fossils of extinct mammoths, horses, camels, bison, llamas, lions and ground sloths the size of grizzly bears, and even possibly prehistoric man.

In fact, Tule Springs Fossil Beds will fill a missing link in the National Park Service. As one Park Service person put it: “…prior to Tule Springs, we did not have a National Park Service unit dedicated to specifically preserving and interpreting a park for Ice Age, or Pleistocene, paleontology. And now Tule Springs provides that.”


Some of the prehistoric fossils found at our newest national park. Photos courtesy of the National Park Service.

Tule Springs then is our nation’s first and only Ice Age Park. Imagine the branding possibilities… especially for an urban park in a place that knows a thing or two about attracting tourists.

In the coming months, check out the park’s plans for building new trails and a visitors center. I’m excited to see what will happen with Tule Springs. It is now as it should be – recognized as a national treasure.