By The Culture Trip
Prehistoric Las Vegas
The area that Las Vegas occupies was once an abundant wet marshland filled with rich vegetation. But as the marsh receded and waters disappeared from the landscape, the region evolved into arid desert land. Miraculously, water that was trapped underground sporadically rose to the surface to water the vigorous plants that survived, forming an oasis.
During the 19th century, Mexican explorer Antonio Armijo was forging the way from New Mexico to California on the first commercial caravan, which would later become known as the Old Spanish Trail. En route to Los Angeles, the group veered from the traditional path in 1829, settling 100 miles (161 kilometers) northeast of present-day Las Vegas. Rafael Rivera, along with his scouting party, rode west to find water; Rivera left the group to venture into the desert on his own, setting his eyes upon the oasis of Las Vegas Springs. The land was named Las Vegas, meaning “the meadows,” after the verdant grasses found growing in the valley.
Over the course of the next century, Mexican and Mormon settlers filtered in and out of Las Vegas, many en route to California via the Old Spanish Trail or to take advantage of the California Gold Rush. Mormons in Salt Lake City traveled to Las Vegas to protect a mail route; they built adobe structures, planted fruits and vegetables, and mined for lead. But by 1858, they had abandoned the area.