|Boulder City History
by Dennis McBride
In 1936 Boulder City resident Anita Scott was exploring Dry Lake in Eldorado Valley after a heavy rain when she noticed the muddy puddles along the road were alive with hundreds of tiny, primitive-looking creatures. Word spread through Boulder City and it wasn’t long before kids rode their bikes out to Dry Lake with empty jars to catch the little animals. Roy Klinger, whose family settled Railroad Pass, took his mother’s spaghetti strainer out to the pools to sieve with. Exactly what these ephemeral creatures were remained a mystery for years; all anyone knew is that after heavy rains, the creatures appeared, lived a few days, then died, and that there were three distinct kinds of them. In trying to figure out where they came from and how they lived, Boulderites froze the creatures and thawed them, took them out of the water to let them die in the air, and watched while the big ones ate the little ones.
It wasn’t until the mid-1940s that anyone made an effort to identify the animals. Elton Garrett, a local newsman and real estate agent wrote a series of articles in the Boulder City News about the creatures when they appeared after several summer thunderstorms filled Dry Lake. Local photographers John Westen and Bill Belknap captured several of the creatures on July 21, 1946, photographed them, then put the pictures and creatures on display in the News office. For about a year a number of Boulder City clubs, including the Mineralogical Society, collected specimens and sent them off to scientific organizations around the country hoping for identification. In 1947 the most common of the three types of creatures was identified by Swedish naturalist Folke Lind as Apus Longicauditus, also known as tadpole shrimp or long-tailed apus. The other two were fairy shrimp and a tiny clam shrimp.
The apus have survived in nearly the same form for millions of years. They live long enough to eat, mate, and lay eggs which lie dormant in the dried earth until the next big rain storm hatches them. Sometimes wind lifts the tiny eggs and scatters them across the desert. In the years since the apus were found on Dry Lake they’ve been found in other places, too: in the Valley of Fire, on the Ivanpah dry lake on the east side of the McCullough Mountains-even in mud holes at the end of Utah Street on the way to the landfill. A new species was discovered as recently as March 2005 on dry lakes in the Idaho desert. While an article from 1959 notes the apus have no commercial or physical value, one entrepreneur in 1965 found a way to make money with them. Red Gray, who operated the restaurant in the Tower Club on the Nevada/California border, captured a jar full of these amazing creatures, killed them, then embedded them in resin using cocktail glasses from the bar as molds. He offered them as trinkets to passing tourists.
Sponsored by the Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum.