Lake Mead

Photo above: View through the canyons at Lake Mead NRA. Right: View of Callville Bay at Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Source: National Park Service.

Lake Mead

Lake Mead

It was a dramatic turn of events in 1928 when the history and landscape of the desert near St. Thomas, Nevada was legislated to change forever. With the construction of Hoover Dam and the Colorado River now kept behind most of it, Lake Mead rose over several years, submerging the town and creating one of the most attended National Park Service units in the nation. Miles and miles of water cover what used to be Nevada desert, and even with the recent drought that allowed the town of St. Thomas to come back to the surface in ruined form, the area provides a plethora of recreation activities from boating to camping to hiking to a retreat by a lake, plus that history of the town and the dam and the river that preceded it.

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Lake Mead

Lake Mead Then

Original inhabitants were the Anasazi and the Basketmakers in the Lost City prior to European settlement and that famous wrong turn. For the town of St. Thomas was born from thinking the Mormom settlers who poured into the area had found Utah, but they had not. The Mormon group stopped within the NRA boundary in a fertile valley of the Muddy and Virgin Rivers in 1865. They thought they were in Utah, were eventually discovered by Nevada officials who required five years back taxes, burned down their homes, and moved to Salt Lake City. Other settlers arrived in the 1880's, rebuilt the town, and eventually St. Thomas rose in population to five hundred people. This time, their fate would be in the hands of the federal government, not state officials with taxes to collect. In 1928, President Coolidge signed the authorization for the building of Hoover (Bounder) Dam, which would flood the town. They had seven years to leave before the town would start to flood, sinking sixty feet below the lake. Today, as in several droughts in the past, St. Thomas is dry and able to be visited. Guess you can't keep a good, even wrong turn town, down.

Photo above: Residents/scavengers making a trip back to the town of St. Thomas as Lake Mead overtakes the buildings, June 1938. Photo courtesy National Park Service. Below: One of the many hiking trails at Lake Mead NRA. Source: National Park Service.

Lake Mead Hiking

Lake Mead Now

It's been a lake since the 1930's after the announcement and construction of Boulder Dam, now Hoover Dam. Now there's recreation galore, campgrounds all over the place, hiking trails aplenty, horseback trails, and yes, all that water to wander around, ski atop, fish within, or just play around. You can rent your boat or bring your own. Be careful and obey all the rules of the park so you can enjoy your trip. Yes, there's lots of them.

It's one hundred and forty miles long split into two lakes, Mead and Mohave and desert steaming at its edge for all of that shoreline. If full, it's the largest reservoir in the United States, although it has not been full since 1983. Lake Mead has only been known by that name since 1964, prior to that it was Boulder Dam Recreation Area since its inception in 1936. Of course, prior to that park's founding, this was a settlement known in the northern area of the park as the town of St. Thomas, now a ghost town due to the flooding.

If viewing history is part of any tour you take, you can even go back to St. Thomas and try to reconstruct the vision of those ruins into a vibrant town. And a jaunty sidetrip over to the Hoover Dam itself can be a real treat.

For most of its seven million visitor each year, Lake Mead National Recreation Area is a variety of water based fun only thirty minutes from Las Vegas, although the overlap of visitors seeking this recreation after a nightclub visit to see Terry Fader is likely low. Oh, maybe not. But if you're in this vicinity of the United States, head over to the park created by the need for electricity and water for desert city residents. View the lake from above or around it and enjoy the days in safe fun spent in the hot Nevada sun.

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Office of Grand Gulch Mine

Lake Mead

Things You Should Not Miss

1. The lakes are so big, if you're here for the first time, stop by the Alan Bible Visitor Center to get oriented, see exhibits, and find out what you'd like to do.

2. Take a Ranger guided walk or talk and find out more about the nature and history of Lake Mead. Check at the Visitor Center for the scheduled activities on the day you'll be there.

3. Take a drive. No, we're not talking a car boat. For those that like to look at the water, but not necessarily play in it, there are a variety of driving tours surrounding the lakes. Northstone Road takes you to red boulders, Pearce Ferry Road to Joshua Tree forests, and Lakeshore Road skirts the Boulder Basin area.

4. Hike the park trails, including the trail to the St. Thomas ruins site. No longer under water due to the drought, this submerged town contains the remnants of the thriving community that was once lost. It's like going to an archaelogical dig or actual City of Atlantis no longer under the Lake Mead sea. About two miles of walking with moderate elevation changes. Photo above: Remnants of the office at Grand Gulch Mine within Lake Mead NRA. Source: National Park Service.

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