Shortly after leaving the hustle and bustle of Hollywood, Bonnie Levinson (then Bonnie McGaugh) bought herself an unconventional dream home in the middle of Red Rock Canyon. The year was 1952, and the 115-acre ranch 20 miles west of Las Vegas featured a three-bedroom house and a dilapidated bar, which Levinson famously ran without electricity for more than a decade. In 1958, four years after marrying her husband Al Levinson, the couple opened Bonnie Springs Ranch, adding a stable, a restaurant, a zoo and, eventually, a replica of an old Nevada mining town that they dubbed Old Nevada. Since opening almost 60 years ago, Bonnie Springs Ranch has become a favorite among Las Vegans and tourists alike. And on February 7, the ranch announced on Facebook that its beloved founder had died peacefully on January 29 at the age of 94.
There will be a private service, but on Saturday, February 13, the ranch is holding a public gathering for Bonnie.
“She loved the area,” says her son Alan Levinson, who operates the ranch with his sister, April Hopper. “She loved the mountains, but her favorite thing ever was the animals, there’s no doubt. She loved them all. She went in with the wolves every day and she went in with the lynx every day.” The zoo is home to a handful of such exotic animals as well as goats, peacocks, emus and deer. “They climbed right in her lap. It was a pretty amazing connection between her and any animal she got near. There was never an ounce of fear.”
Following the announcement of Bonnie’s passing, the community showed an outpouring of support, sharing their condolences and memories of her on the ranch’s Facebook page. “My parents took me and my siblings to Bonnie Springs beginning in the late 1950s, and I remember swimming in the pool there. I took my children there as well. I hope Bonnie Springs will be there for many more generations to come. I am so very sorry for your loss. Rest in peace, Bonnie. You were a beautiful lady!” wrote Carey Floyd. “I feel so lucky that I had the pleasure of meeting her, she was so sweet and kind but also had a feisty side!” added Tina Abeyta.
The showing of support over the past three days has been incredible, Alan says. “We’ve been getting a crazy amount of phone calls and texts. We waited a few days to put it on Facebook so we could be ready, because I knew it was going to be a little crazy … It’s amazing the amount of people that feel a really good connection with her, just from one time visiting Vegas or seeing her in the zoo.”
And while the ranch and the community have felt a huge loss, Alan and April will continue to operate and tend the ranch. “It owns us,” Alan laughs. “It’s not going to be the same without her. She did what she wanted. She was a handful pretty much to the end, a pretty feisty old woman. That was pretty awesome to see that.”