Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway

Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Nevada

The Spring Mountain Visitor Gateway site encompasses 90 acres of Forest Service land – 30 acres in the upper village and 60 acres in the lower valley. Built on a defunct golf course that had badly damaged the site, the Spring Mountain Visitor Gateway acts as an urban interface to introduce guests to the unique ecosystems of Mt. Charleston and the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area (SMNRA).

The project includes a Visitor Center, Education Building, trails for varied skill levels, picnic shelters and two amphitheaters. The Visitor Center and Education Building are both designed to deliver an inside-outside experience, creating a natural, holistic feel that honors the landscape.

Included in the Visitor Center are an information area, an interpretive gallery and a retail store. The gallery was designed for theatrical effect with suspended blue banners and decorative lights representing the sky. An audio experience of nature sounds suspends above a bench crafted from a 3,000-year-old Bristlecone Pine tree ring. The exhibits describe the seven ecological zones occurring in the SMNRA and their associated flora and fauna. The exhibits also describe the sustainable design process used in the building and the site.

Artwork provided by two local artists; Austine Wood-Camarrow, who design the polage at the on the interior windows of the visitor center, and Zak Ostrowski, who designed the free-standing benches and the mosaic tile installation at the small amphitheater. 

A primary consideration was to maintain a positive connection with the seven nations of Nuwuvi (Southern Paiute) in the area. Encouraging tribal input and close cooperation throughout the design process was essential from the outset, as Mt. Charleston is considered the sacred birthplace of the Paiute people.

Client

United State Forest Service

Size

90 Acre Site
Visitor Center
Education Center

Cost

$12 Million

Services Performed

Programming
Master Planning
Design
Interpretive Planning
Construction Administration
Art Integration

Role

Prime Architect

Awards

American Consulting Engineers Council (ACEC) Engineering Excellence Award, April 2016

For design inspiration, we turned toward Zion and Yosemite National Parks, among others, as examples that provide the visitor a clear orientation to area activities.

As one of our first tasks, we assembled a team of consulting professionals whose experience brought specific expertise and unique knowledge to the project. The team consisted of structural engineers, mechanical engineers, even lighting designers who know more about how the eye perceives light than most doctors.

The Regenesis Group from Santa Fe, New Mexico studied Kyle Canyon in the larger context of the Mojave Desert and Las Vegas region to develop a meta-story for this place; a unifying concept and source of inspiration for developing place-sourced economic, design, interpretive and community engagement concepts.

We also called upon the proficiency of the Biomimicry Guild. This group studies the native animal and vegetative wildlife to understand how they thrive and survive under local conditions. This understanding helps us design in a way that mimics these survival mechanisms. For example, big horn sheep persevere because their horns and ears act as natural cooling devices. This natural adaptation inspires ideas for incorporating similar elements into the design process; our plans would focus on heating and cooling the buildings through structural elements rather than mechanical means.

Spring Mountain Visitors Gateway complex spans an area right off the existing highway, starting with two roundabouts to slow traffic down and create a buffer area. The village site is sculpted to create three plateaus, operating as transition zones toward the forest. The closest to the highway functions almost like a rest stop, offering highway travelers a safe spot for a quick picnic or restroom break and can orient guests to various destinations in the Spring Mountains. The next level is set up for a longer visit; perhaps an hour or two for exploration including the interpretive gallery in the Visitor Center, open large field areas for group gatherings, and orientation loop trails. The third level is the area for destination visitors to the Gateway, including the education facility, the open plaza, group picnic area, and trails to the Valley. The site sculpting includes creation of an ephemeral riparian stream, which traverses the site in the west to east direction and becomes the anchor for activities, landscape and built elements.

Guests leave their cars and decompress through the finger trails that lead to the aspen-lined welcoming plaza. The emphasis on natural growth rather than artistic interpretation will give visitors a new experience with each season. Beyond the Welcoming Plaza is the Orientation Plaza to familiarize visitors with the site, amenities and activities.

At the Seven Stones Plaza, the focus will be the Paiute story. Seven different stones are used to represent the seven different nations, with the center stone representing their birthplace, Mt. Charleston. Etched images surround the large center stone, subtly telling the creation story. At the appropriate time of year, tribal families will be invited to harvest pine nuts in pinion-juniper habitats, maintaining their traditions of sharing stories and passing their history on to the next generation.

The addition of the Silent Heroes of the Cold War Monument completed the site and provides a place of remembrance for the brave scientists killed on Mt. Charleston as they traveled to their secret jobs at the Nevada Test Site.