Lake Mead: A Desert Oasis
Lake Mead Travel Tale
by Lorry Patton . . .
We were looking for a little desert sunshine. We found it shining over a big blue lake.
Others were looking for a little water. They found it, too, dammed between the dry desert hills.
Water and desert. The two words are hardly synonymous, unless you're speaking about
Lake Mead, located in the Mojave Desert, 34 miles from Las Vegas. Lake Mead is one of
America's most popular year 'round water sports destinations. More than 9 million visitors
come each year to swim, play houseboat, fish, ski , or just to marvel at the size of the lake, thanks
to Hoover Dam.
Hoover Dam straddles the Colorado River and controls Lake Mead, the largest man-made
lake in the United States, holding almost 29 million acre feet of water.
The Boulder City Museum runs an excellent old-time film on the construction of the dam,
which was built during the depression, in 1931.
"Sixteen thousand workers came to this raw, undeveloped and dangerous place They
camped out in tents and shacks along the Colorado River, some for as long as three years,
without clean drinking water, toilets, or protection from the extreme weather. 96 men were
killed in industrial accidents while building the dam and several others died from the heat and
poisoning. Many people, wives and children of the workers died, too." ... so the story goes.
The hard-hat tour of the dam is new and very well received by visitors. A guide took our
small groups into areas that used to be restricted to the public and gave us a more "show and tell"
explanation of the dam's functions. We not only heard how the giant water turbines and
generators change the water from mechanical energy to electrical energy we saw the equipment
that makes it happen. This "behind the scenes look" made the seemingly untouched natural
wilderness above us an even more incredible accomplishment.
At first it looks barren, the dry mountains and deep canyons with nary a blade of grass.
But upon further reflection, we could see a prickly pear just about to blossom, we saw dozens of
wildflowers poking from beneath the pebbles and the cactus.
Much of the spectacular scenery of this desert landscape is only viewed from the water,
like the narrow, steep-walled gorge of Iceberg Canyon and it's times like these that I wish I could
add kayaking to my many talents. Nevertheless, we managed to see some spectacular pink,
yellow, red and purple rock formations on the road to the Valley of Fire. These images were quite
There is a RV park at the lake, but we didn't have our rig, so we stayed at Lake Mead
Resort. During the heyday of the dam's construction, Lake Mead Resort was home to the most
elite and sophisticated, offering a touch of modern amenities in these harsh surroundings.
Ironically, now it is these harsh and simple surroundings that are sought by so many.
At 110 miles long, with over 550 miles of shoreline cutting into rugged cliffs and hidden
inlets; even with six busy marinas, the lake seems blissfully empty.
The park's private concessionaires are well organized. We could have rented practically
anything that floats, from a tippy canoe to a plush houseboat. Or we could have opted to go on a
floating device that is operated by someone else, like a paddlewheeller or a raft or a group cruise.
The Desert Princess is available for all kinds of occasions: breakfast cruises, dinner excursions,
dance excursions. (A standard breakfast buffet cruise is $21 for an adult which includes the
cruise. The meal cruises are on Sundays only.) We could have even hired the entire boat for a
wedding or a private party.
The dam might have been built to better control the water flow in the arid Southwest
desert. The lake might have been created to hold our drinking water, to generate electricity, to
irrigate crops and to create habituate for wildlife. However, ask any one of the nine million
visitors and they'll tell you it's primarily a big bathtub to play in.
Footnote: For more information write to Lake Mead National Recreation Area, 601-
Nevada Highway, Boulder City, Nevada 89005-2426, or call 702-293-8906.
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