Come with us as we take you on a walkthrough of this Hidden Gem in Las Vegas. The Dunes Discovery Area at Sunset Park is a place that a lot of people don’t know about.
We were a little reluctant sharing this Hidden Gem because we love it so much and want to make sure that it stays preserved for future generations. But, that is what we do at Travelivery. We share what we know about the city and hope visitors love it as much as we do. Should you visit, please make sure to leave without a trace. Thank you!
The Dunes Discovery Area is located just south of the pond & Area G. The area includes an interpretive overlook, interpretive history walk, 12′ wide colored asphalt trails, post and cable fencing for protection of dunes and sensitive bird habitat, as well as interpretive signage and maps.
History of Dunes Discovery Area
Dunes like those at Dunes Discovery Area in Sunset Park once covered much of Paradise Valley. They formed when wind-blown sand fell at the base of mesquite trees. Wind direction creates dunce of particular shapes. The half-moon shaped dunes, like those in Sunset Park, are called “barchans.” The two “horns” of the half-moon, point away from the prevailing wind.
Over thousands of years, wind, sand, and mesquites created the dune landscape of Paradise Valley. With the coming of the railroad in the early 1930s, the dunes were leveled and sand was used for landscaping and construction. The only remaining dune filed in Paradise Valley is at Sunset Park.
The Dunes Discovery Area in Sunset Park provides essential habitat for various animals and birds, such as the Phainopepla. This bird eats insects and the berries on the mistletoe that grows on the mesquite branches. As mesquite has disappeared from the valley, the birds’ numbers have decreased.
About Yonema “Bill” Tomiyasu
Sunset Park neighbor Yonema Tomiyasu migrated from Japan to California in 1898. In 1914 he moved to Las Vegas and purchased the Passno property, east of today’s Sunset Park. Duck Creek formed the southern boundary of his property.
Tomiyasu was a skilled farmer, but despite his best efforts, his first gardens failed. After five years of trial and error, he learned what and when to plant, and was able to raise large crops of choice vegetables on his farm. During the building of Hoover Dam, Tomiyasu produced the vegetables for the Six Companies’ Boulder City store.
When major grocery stores came to Las Vegas in the 1950s, truck farming became unprofitable, and Tomiyasu turned to landscaping. Yonema Tomiyasu died in 1969. His most important legacies are his plant list and planet calendar, which are still used today by the Nevada Cooperative Extension Service. Tomiyasu Lane and Tomiyasu Elementary School are named in his memory.
A Ranch Becomes a Park
As McCarran Airport expanded and subdivisions spread, the old Houssels Ranch with its ponds, shade trees, and green pastures became more important to longtime residents of Paradise Valley. Concern grew that the rural beauty of the area might be lost.
Mary Gravelle Habbart purchased 20 acres of the Tomiyasu property next to the Houssels Ranch after World War II and developed a dairy herd. Later, as Paradise Town Board chair, she campaigned tirelessly to turn Houssels Ranch into a public park. In 1967, Clark County purchased the 325-acre ranch with funds from a federal grant that was matched with Paradise Town funds, and the private ranch became a public park.
In the early days, Mary Habbart watched over Sunset Park, protecting it from vagrants and sand thieves. Today, the Clark County Department of Parks and Recreation provides for management and park development.