Friday, May 25, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Map of Lake Mead National Recreation Area
601 Nevada Way, Boulder City
Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer at Lake Mead, the country’s largest reservoir, and more than 200,000 people are expected to visit the area this weekend.
Whether you’re looking to get active by hiking or biking in the hills surrounding the lake or you simply want to find a secluded cove to drop anchor and fish, the Lake Mead National Recreation Area provides plenty of ways to spend a day under the sun.
“You have the extreme aspects of the desert and all its wildlife. You have this beautiful body of water connected to the Colorado River,” said Randy Lavasseur, assistant chief ranger. “You can really leave Vegas behind and get a sense of the desert wilderness.”
Boating is among the most popular activities on the lake but can also be one of its most dangerous. Extra officers from the Nevada Department of Wildlife will be on the water this weekend enforcing boating regulations.
Edwin Lyngar, boat education coordinator, said boaters could stay safe by following three key guidelines.
The first is to carry life jackets — one for each person onboard.
“When the wind blows, if you fall off your boat or decide to go for a swim, you can get into trouble quickly,” he said.
Drinking and boating don’t mix, Lyngar said. Doing so carries the same risks and penalties of drinking and driving a car.
Finally, Nevada residents born after 1983 are required to complete a boating-education course and carry proof of certification before hitting the water with their boats, he said.
Once on the water, the expansive scope of Lake Mead makes it perfect for exploring, fishing and water sports, said Terry Goodbody, a Henderson resident who organizes a boating enthusiast group that meets at the lake.
“Out of all the nearby lakes, Lake Mead is the most underutilized. You go down to Lake Havasu and it’s crowded all the time,” he said. “At Lake Mead, we do a lot of day camping on the beaches, which are really sandy and pretty. We’ll put our boats in a cove and hang out together. There’s so much shoreline, you can go forever out there.”
Boaters who plan on taking their boat to other bodies of water after visiting Lake Mead should thoroughly clean their craft — preferably by hosing it down with water heated to about 140 degrees and then draining all onboard tanks and pumps — to prevent the spread of Quagga mussels, said UNLV professor David Wong. Trillions of the mussels live in Lake Mead.
“If you take your boat home, you should decontaminate it to try to prevent the spread of this invasive species,” he said. “They do a lot of destructive damage to pipe systems and boats.”
For those looking to get outside but avoid the water, Lake Mead also offers an extensive network of trails suited for hiking and biking as well as campgrounds for overnight stays.
“It’s a lot more desertlike, even compared to Red Rock,” said Alan Gegax, who organizes hiking trips in the Lake Mead area. “In general, hiking at Lake Mead is more adventuresome; there’s more of a Wild West feel.”
The summer heat means hiking early in the morning or later at night is advised, Gegax said. One popular destination during the summer is the Rail Road Tunnel trail, he said, which offers several shaded stretches and is easy enough for the whole family.
Various operators around Lake Mead offer both hiking and kayaking tours, which Ellie Pierson said could be a good way to learn the area.
“If you don’t know where you’re going, go with a group,” said Pierson, who organizes the Vegas Walking, Hiking and Adventures group. “Be prepared, take lots of water. … Don’t go out by yourself; too many things can happen if you do.”
With a little precaution, Lake Mead provides a unique experience that can’t be matched anywhere else in the valley, she said.
“It’s such a beautiful view out there,” Pierson said. “There’s hiking, kayaking on the river, pontoon boats down the river. We like to find little hidden coves out of the river to stop and have picnic lunches.”