Las Vegas is commonly known as Sin City, the gambling capital, the entertainment capital, and the marriage capital of the world. It’s also one of the best destinations if you’re looking for a good time! Today we associate Las Vegas with glamor and glitz, but it wasn’t always that way. Before Las Vegas was overflowing with casinos, restaurants, and entertainment venues, it was a valley in Southern Nevada with flowing groundwater and nutrient-rich desert soil. We were curious as to how Las Vegas got its name and thought maybe you were too.
The tale of why the city is called Las Vegas has an interesting story behind it that shows just how quickly a climate can change.
How Did Las Vegas Get its Name?
Las Vegas got its name in the 1800s from a Spanish trader named Rafael Rivera. Rafael was part of a larger Spaniard trading group led by Antonio Armijo. He found an area of natural springs surrounded by lush grasses, which inspired the name Las Vegas.
That might sound strange, considering Vegas is right in the middle of the Mojave Desert, but Las Vegas wasn’t always as dry as it is today.
At the time it was named, Las Vegas was an oasis located between the mountains of a desert. The Las Vegas Valley had plenty of natural springs to support lush wild desert grasses and humans. Today, it’s known as the neon capital of the world, but once upon a time, the area was filled with grassy meadows, wild grasses, and springs that would flow freely and peacefully through the land.
What does “Las Vegas” Mean in Spanish?
Las Vegas as a name for the area was first coined by Spanish-speaking explorers. It’s a Spanish word that translates to “The Meadows.”
The History of Las Vegas
Although Sin City was named by Spaniards, it was originally inhabited by Native Americans. The Paiute and Mojave Tribes called Las Vegas home long before it was Las Vegas. For more than 13,000 years, Las Vegas Valley had plenty of water and natural resources to go around.
The Spanish were first introduced to the area in the 1600s. The Old Spanish Trail was a trail first formed by Native American tribes, but Spanish traders started using the 700 miles of established paths.
The Old Spanish Trail went through California and New Mexico, with mountains, deserts, and harsh terrain making up most of the journey. That’s why it was such a relief for traders to discover Vegas!
Traders would stop in Las Vegas for water during the otherwise dry journey to Los Angeles.
In 1864, America built Fort Baker in Vegas. At this time, Las Vegas still had plenty of natural water resources. It wasn’t until 1905 that Las Vegas became an official city. The change happened after 110 acres of the railroad were sold, and the city became a railroad town.
In 1907 the first underground well system was installed, which nearly doubled the amount of water produced each year! Unfortunately, the water didn’t last long.
By 1962 the city ran almost completely dry. Vegas’ growth didn’t slow down, though. Instead, Sin City started importing water from the Colorado River to Lake Mead.
The growth of Las Vegas happened rapidly. What was once a stop on the Spanish Trail became the gambling capital of the world in no time!
Resorting the Water in Las Vegas
Plans have been in the works since 1988 in an attempt to restore the local natural Aquifer in Las Vegas. There’s no telling if or when those plans will be successful, but the goal is for Vegas to one day become a lush oasis once again!
Las Vegas, Nevada, has a history that extends far beyond the city of glitz, glamour, and lights that we know it to be today. The next time you’re in Sin City, spend some time visiting the local museums and learning about the rich history and culture of the Las Vegas Valley.
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