Matthew Minard / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, May 28, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Lake Mead is more than just a body of water leading up to the architectural wonder that is Hoover Dam.
A closer look at the lake reveals a region full of hidden gems and activities that go beyond a fun-filled afternoon on the water. There are hiking trails that lead to hot springs, a diversity of wilderness terrains that go from craggy cliffs to flat valleys, and a sunken World War II B-29 bomber among the many areas to explore in the national recreation area.
As summer fast approaches, here are a few activities and facts you might not have known about the largest manmade reservoir in the United States:
Explore the remains of a formerly underwater colony
In 1865, pioneers settled into land around the Colorado River, building farms, homes and stores to form a town called St. Thomas. In 1938, the final resident rowed away from his home as the city made like Atlantis and became submerged by the rapidly rising waters of what became Lake Mead. Today, that water has dried up and visitors can take tours exploring the remains of homes and treasures left behind from the formerly underwater city.
Hike Lake Mead
While most of the attention is drawn to the giant formation of water that is Lake Mead, the park is actually 87 percent land, Lake Mead National Recreation Area spokeswoman Christie Vanover said. Visitors can take hikes through colorful rock formations and open desert and along the historic railway used to carry supplies to build Hoover Dam. Hikers looking for a challenge can take the Goldstrike Hot Springs Trail. The trail involves plenty of rock scrambling and rope challenges, but a dip in the hot springs makes the trip worth it in the end.
Kayak to a sandbar
Visitors tired of the rocky beaches that surround Lake Mead or looking for an adventure can rent a kayak and take to the waters. The lake is filled with plenty of sandbars within paddling distance, where they can lay out underneath the sun for a relaxing afternoon. People can also rent boats, pontoons and water-sports equipment.
Scuba dive for World War II relics
In addition to swimming and kayaking, Lake Mead also offers scuba diving. Divers can see fish, underwater formations and a B-29 bomber. That’s right, the bottom of the lake is home to a World War II aircraft relic. The bomber was engaged in high-altitude atmospheric research when it crashed into the Overton arm of Lake Mead on July 21, 1948, Vanover said. Divers interested in more than the typical fish sight-seeing can check out the aircraft.
Lake Mead offers nine primitive wilderness areas, where visitors can pitch tents and spend a night or two in the wilderness. Each region of wilderness offers a different experience. The Black Canyon region was formed by volcanoes and contains petroglyphs, among other archaeological resources. The Eldorado region is full of steep mountains and craggy cliffs that extend into the Colorado River. The Ireteba Peaks region offers secluded valleys and flat alluvial fans and is home to the threatened desert tortoise and Townsend’s western big-eared bats, among other unique species. “These primitive locations in the park are peaceful getaways where people go for self-discovery and self-reliance,” Vanover said.
Lake Mead owns its own cruise boat, a Mississippi-style paddlewheeler nicknamed the Desert Princess. The boat takes passengers on all types of cruises, including a champagne-soaked brunch cruise, a midday sightseeing cruise, a dinner cruise and a private cruise.
Lake Mead isn’t without its share of nuisance. Visitors and boaters should be aware of the tiny Quagga mussels. The freshwater mollusks with the zebra-stripe-patterned shells attach themselves onto the bottom of boats and clog pipes and engines. They also disrupt sport fishing, affect the food chain and litter the beaches. Boat owners should be sure to clean their boats before removing them from the water to prevent the spread of the invasive mollusk, Vanover said.
Say “I Do”
In addition to the abundance of wedding chapels in Las Vegas, Lake Mead offers its own wedding service. Visitors interested in getting married can register with the Las Vegas Wedding Company to say their vows and “I do’s” in front of Hoover Dam and mountainous Boulder Basin at the Lake Mead Overlook, Vanover said.