DesertSol rests in the middle of Springs Preserve, the botanical garden at the heart of Las Vegas’ beginnings and the city’s center.
The public garden at home in the Mojave Desert seemed a perfect location for the energy-efficient model home. Though, the permanent location was envisioned well in advance as the grounds were being prepared for, what was to be, DesertSol, awarded second place in the Overall competition in the 2013 Solar Decathlon.
“Representatives from Springs Preserve were interested in the solar-powered home before the design competition was won,” said Dawn Barraclough of Public Relations at Springs Preserve.
60 students and instructors from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, created plans and built a solar home fit for desert life and then entered Desert Sol in the United States Department of Energy Solar Decathlon in 2013.
Chris Eirschele of Decoded Plants met with Dawn Barraclough of Public Relations at Springs Preserve in Las Vegas to tour DesertSol and talk about the project.
Nevada Desert Home Energy Solar Decathlon Winner
I looked out the series of horizontal windows that faced DesertSol’s north-side garden. The tour took me through the 754 square foot of living space, down the hallway passing angled doorways. The bench I sat on complemented the rectangular kitchen table, which was comprised of two narrow planks bridged in the center by a decorative gully of rocks and succulents.
The outdoor landscape was planted with the native Joshua tree, agave, warm season grasses like Karl Foerster, and a collection of drought tolerant perennials and ground covers.
The UNLV team entered in the prestigious United States Department of Energy Solar Decathlon in 2013. The Solar Decathlon is a yearly competition of collegiate teams from around the world who are inspired to design, build, and operate solar powered houses that are affordable, highly energy efficient, and attractive.
Alexia Chen, Project Leader of the DesertSol Home, said of the team, “placed second for Overall Competition and was the only United States team that placed in the top three.”
Heather Holmstrom, Lead Logistics & Regulations of DesertSol Home project and UNLV student said, “It was a great opportunity for us as a desert school to show what we can do on our environment since solar energy is so important here.”
DesertSol at Springs Preserve has evolved into an indoor and outdoor exhibit that blends the environment of the Mojave Desert in Nevada with the interior needs of people living in an excessively dry climate. Called an ultra-efficient home for its angled window placement toward the gardens, including custom screens; and a multipurpose water system with low-flow plumbing fixtures, DesertSol was configured into a one bedroom one bathroom home.
While we sat in DesertSol, Barraclough shared her ideas, “The Springs Preserve is the ideal setting for the final stop of the solar home’s journey. Commitment to education, community outreach, and sustainability unite the University of Nevada Las Vegas DesertSol team and Springs Preserve in a distinct and beautiful partnership.”
UNLV and Springs Preserve are frequent partners in bringing sustainable programs to the local community. In a joint venture around the holidays, the Springs Preserve sponsored a drop-off service for locale residents that was free of charge; the Christmas trees were mulched and that mulch is, in turn, used throughout the city to add organic cover on public landscapes.
Water Smart Landscaping with Native Plants
The design philosophy of DesertSol makes use of native plants, termed “water smart” choices. Growing these plants around an energy efficient-styled model home is a visual lesson in sustainable living; the classic display explains the Springs Preserve mission.
Following the slightly inclined walkway around to the entrance and past the interior’s small windows, we caught glimmers of small plantings, all the while surrounded by large landscaped beds in adjoining gardens.
Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia), Mormon tea (Ephedra sp.), globemallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea), creosote bush (Larrea tridentate), firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii), and purple sage (Salvia dorrii) are a sampling of native plants in the Mojave Desert that can be used in a residential landscape and are seen here at the botanical garden.
Springs Preserve First Gardens in the Mojave Desert
You will discover Springs Preserve Botanical Garden only if you venture out into the inner sections of Las Vegas away from the high-powered glitz of The Strip. Opened to the public in 2007, the 180 acres of urban desert garden has always been the fountainhead of local history and a life-saving source of water for anyone attempting to build a life in this part of the Mohave Desert.
Explorers passing through Nevada, and those who stayed, subsisted on the natural springs, small streams, and native plant life in the desert. Though some groups of people later left, but not before depleting much of the vegetation, the Las Vegas valley experienced an ever expanding growth of populations that demanded from the land increasing amounts of the desert’s natural resources to survive.
The Springs Preserve sits on the springs, below the gardens: A valuable natural resource that has been threatened many times in the last centuries. Now, Springs Preserve is designated an archaeological site and, in 1978, was listed on the National Register of Historical Places.
DesertSol Model of Green Living at Springs Preserve in Las Vegas
DesertSol is the result of work by students and professional gardeners who envisioned what is possible living in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Aaron Micallef, Education Programs Supervisor, added, “Desert Sol has added another visually appealing component to the Springs Preserve Botanical Garden that fits the Preserve’s mission of living sustainably in the desert. Along with the seasonal Butterfly Habitat, annually changing gardens and art, and the ever-changing nature of gardens in bloom, the solar home has added another component to the gardens to visit in Las Vegas.”
The botanical garden grounds are awash in museums, galleries, outdoor events, planting beds, walking trails, and a scenic wetlands habitat.
Barraclough said, “The internationally awarded DesertSol is a multi-faceted educational example of environmentally conscious green living.”
Seeing examples of sustainable living in a desert landscape like this Mohave Desert setting helps visitors see what is possible in a garden, while still protecting the environment.