While not technically a national park, Lake Mead Recreation Area falls under the jurisdiction of the National Parks Service, and admission was free during National Parks Week.
Just outside Las Vegas, Nevada, Lake Mead didn't exist until the completion of the Hoover Dam. The Colorado River cut its way through the desert landscape, creating such places as the Grand Canyon, but the water was, until the 1930s, untamed. Black Canyon, on the Nevada-Arizona border, was chosen for the site of then Boulder Dam and the resultant back-up of the Colorado became Lake Mead.
Lake Mead is not just the largest fresh water reservoir in the United States, it is, literally, an oasis in the desert. Camping, boating, fishing, hiking. You can do it all here.
You may also spy the elusive mountain sheep, also called big horn sheep, as you drive the twisting, narrow roads on the path to Hoover Dam.
Some interesting facts about Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam:
- At it's deepest, Lake Mead is 500 feet, with an average depth between 200 and 300 feet.
- Several towns had to be evacuated as the flood waters rose to
- fill in the reservoir. The last stubborn resident left the town of St. Thomas, Nevada in 1938, 3 years after completion of the Hoover Dam. The ruins of St. Thomas can sometimes be seen when lake levels are low.
- At the bottom of the lake is a B-29 Superfortress that crashed in 1948 while testing a prototype missile guidance system known as "suntracker".
- A white ring, sometimes called the bathtub ring, is the result of mineral deposits from higher lake levels.
- Hoover Dam is nearly as wide at its base (660 feet) as it is tall (726 feet).
- If Hoover Dam had been constructed with one continuous pour, the concrete would still not have cooled to ambient temperature. Instead, blocks of concrete, with one inch thick steel coils, through which river water circulated, were used in the construction.
- While over 100 men died during construction of Hoover Dam, contrary to urban legend, no one is buried within the dam itself. This myth may have started because workers, ending their shift, left their boots upside down in the freshly poured concrete for the next shift to discover.
RED ROCK CANYON
VALLEY OF FIRE
Even redder than Red Rock, the Valley of Fire, to the north of Las Vegas, is another hiking, climbing, driving area. Fine, red sand marks the trails where, thousands of years ago, native americans left their marks in petroglyphs on canyon walls. Arches carved from wind beckon curious travelers and desert lizards skitter across the ground. Scattered through out the area, be sure to check out the brightly colored blooms of beaver tail cactus.