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Antonio Armijo

Victor M. Ponce

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In 1829, Antonio Armijo, a Mexican trader from Santa Fe, New Mexico, led a sixty-person and one-hundred-mule caravan along the Spanish Trail, from New Mexico to Los Angeles, California.

While Armijo's caravan was camped on Christmas Day, about 100 miles northeast of present day Las Vegas, a scouting party rode west in search of water. Rafael Rivera, a young Mexican scout, wandered away from the rest of the group into the unexplored desert, in search of a shortcut.1 He headed west of the Colorado River and stumbled upon what is now known as the Las Vegas valley. Camping on top of a mesa that overlooked the valley, he could see springs and meadows thriving in the middle of the desert. After two weeks, Rivera rejoined the group and led them to the valley.2

The Armijo party noted the unusual fertility of the plains surrounding the springs, and so they called it "Las Vegas," which in Spanish translates into "fertile plains." The fertility was due to the presence of the artesian springs in what otherwise would have been a desert landscape.

More than 180 years later, due to the excessive pumping of groundwater, the original artesian springs of Las Vegas have all but disappeared. Between 1907 and 1990, the elevation of the water table dropped between 50 and 300 ft, with the greatest drop occurring near the center of the valley. Moreover, ground subsidence, a direct result of groundwater mining, remains a significant threat in many areas.3

Discoverer of Las Vegas

Statue of Rafael Rivera
Statue of Rafael Rivera

Sources: 1 History of Las Vegas; 2 Rafael Rivera; 3 USGS Circular 1182.