Lake Mead NRA and the Hoover Dam

Wednesday, May 6th — After a long day of driving, much longer than we expected because we decided to push on and drive an additional 100 miles, we arrived in Boulder City, Nevada.  Boulder City is about 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas, and is home to the Visitor Center for the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and to the world-famous Hoover Dam.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

By pushing on (kudos to my chauffeur), we could spend two nights in this one spot rather than set up and break down twice in two nights – preferred by both of us and worth the sacrifice of a long driving day.

Lake Mead
Lake Mead, the largest manmade lake and part of the oldest National Recreation Area in the U.S.

After a short visit at the Visitor Center for our requisite informational movie watching and souvenir magnet purchasing, we drove out to the nearby Hoover Dam which is responsible for this area being what it is today.  In spite of the fact that the road on top of thedam is the site of a great scene from Albert Brooks’ RV movie, Lost In America, we chose to view it from the newly-completed Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge.  [Incidentally, Lost in America is the favorite in our RV-themed movie trilogy which also includes Robin Williams’ RV, and Lucy and Desi’s 1953 classic, The Long, Long Trailer.  If you’ve seen any of these movies, you’ll understand why we have them in our movie collection these days.]

Back to the O’Callaghan-Tillman Bridge… it’s a massive arch bridge which stands just 1,500 feet south of the Hoover Dam.  Finished in 2010 as part of the Hoover Dam Bypass Project, it now takes most of the traffic off the roadway atop the dam, which had been deemed too crowded and dangerous for the amount of traffic using it.  This new bridge crosses the Colorado River that the Hoover Dam tames some 880 feet below, and is part of a new highway connecting Arizona and Nevada.  We walked out onto the bridge and got a much better view and perspective of the dam than was possible in the past.  This engineering marvel was a really cool structure to see!

The Hoover Dam
The Hoover Dam as seen from the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

Now hungry, we returned to Lake Mead for lunch at a marina on the southwestern edge of the lake.  Lake Mead was created when the dam, then called Boulder Dam, was finished in 1935.  Waters of the Colorado River, now backed up, spread into valleys and basins, flooding the lowlands and turning the surrounding dry cliffs into lake shores.  The recreation area created by this new lake has been managed by the National Park Service since 1936.  When Boulder Dam was renamed Hoover Dam in 1947, the area of Lake Mojave, stretching 67 miles southward from Hoover Dam [all the way down to Davis Dam] was added to the recreation area.

Lake Mead and Lake Mojave are the two centerpieces of what was, in 1964, designated the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.  The lives of some 20 million people have been built around this water, and trillions of gallons flow through the area.  It irrigates more than one million acres in the U.S. and Mexico, and the power created from it supplies the neighboring big cities of Las Vegas, San Diego, and Los Angeles.  For years now, the long drought cycles occurring in this part of the country and the over-commitment of this water have created a maelstrom of controversy for the area.  It remains to be seen what this national recreation area will look like in the next several years, but for now, it’s an oasis in what is otherwise the desert Southwest.    

Lake Mead
Marina on Lake Mead; note how low the water is these days