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Sep 22, 2021

Rafael Rivera: It's a name many people see in and around Las Vegas. It's on roads and buildings, and even in museums. But who is Rafael Rivera?

Why is he a part of Las Vegas history?

Rafael Rivera was a Mexican scout who inadvertently came across the Las Vegas Valley in January 1830 while searching for water. His trip made him essential to history because he was the first non-native American to make it into Las Vegas.

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The major trade route from Santa Fe to Los Angeles bypassed the Las Vegas valley for the longest time.

However, while Rivera was scouting for Antonio Armijo's 60-man trading party from Abiquiu, New Mexico, he broke off from the group traveling on the Spanish Trail to head towards an unexplored area. The area is where he came across Las Vegas Springs. 

Historians write Rivera climbed up the Vegas wash 20 miles east of one of his markers, creating a route to the Mojave River in California. The trail is by way of the Amargosa River.

Rivera's pioneering route became a vital link in the Old Spanish Trail, making Las Vegas Springs an essential stop on the way to Southern California because it shortened the trip to Los Angeles.

To this day, there are numerous landmarks named after him to honor his exploration. The Rafael Rivera Park, Community Center and Rafael Rivera Way, a street, are named after him. 

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In Las Vegas, the city owns the Rafael Rivera Community Center. It is leased to the Latin Chamber of Commerce, and they sublease it to the Immigrant Home Foundation, which is also known as Casa del Inmigrante. The non-profit is well known for providing services to the immigrant population, predominantly from Latin American countries.

A park next to the community center is also named after Rivera. The neighborhood/community around the park and community center is predominantly Latino.

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The Nevada Historical Marker 214 also bears his name. 

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