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July 29, 2014

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Tule Springs tours offer vistas into the past

Las Vegas residents can visit a slice of geologic history carved into the northwestern valley.

The Desert Research Institute is offering a free geoscience summit, "Tule Springs: Then and Now," at Shadow Ridge High School from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, and the event will provide the public with guided tours of Tule Springs where camel, mammoth and bison once roamed.

The site's fossil treasures were first uncovered in 1962 by archaeologists exploring Tule Springs in what is known as the "Big Dig." Some of the fossils will be on display at the Shadow Ridge summit.

Researchers continue to unearth fossils not seen before in the Las Vegas Valley. These include frogs, a grasshopper mouse, whipsnakes and other animals. Such findings tell scientists the valley was probably much wetter thousands of years ago.

About 300 feet east of Shadow Ridge, the Big Dig site has become the focus of the high school students' geoscience education project, which is funded by the National Science Foundation in collaboration with Desert Research Institute, UNLV and Nevada Power Company.

As part of their studies, students incorporate authentic archaeological and paleontological research at the Tule Springs site. The program resulted in the first earth-science honors class in the Clark County School District and involves about 165 ninth-grade students each semester.

A member of the 1962 Big Dig will introduce Tule Springs to those attending the summit, sharing memories and treasures found. The public will also hear more about the geoscience project and how it works.

Shadow Ridge students, their teacher, researchers from DRI and UNLV, staff from California's San Bernardino County Museum, where many of the artifacts are housed, and others will make presentations. They will talk about deposits at the dig, the record of Ice Age life there and answer the question, "Who killed the mammoths of Tule Springs?"

From noon through 1:20 p.m. walking tours of Trench K will begin. After a 90-minute break, more guided tours run from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The summit concludes with a lecture by DRI's Paul Buck on "The Meaning of Tule Springs for Pleistocene Extinctions."

The public is encouraged to attend any or all of the events during the day.

"While the day will certainly be of interest to science buffs, we're keeping the focus on what's been found at Tule Springs and why it's important to Nevada," Buck said.

"The summit is aimed at encouraging the public to appreciate science in our own backyard, and we promise to keep the technical jargon at a minimum," Buck said.

Shadow Ridge High School is located off U.S. 95 north, exit Interstate 215 east until Decatur Boulevard. Turn left on Decatur and pass the water treatment plant to Brent Lane. A left on Brent Lane leads to the high school.

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