Touring Lake Mead, Nevada, by Automobile

Fresh Blue Water in Lake Mead

Lake Mead is a surprisingly blue body of water to first-time visitors. (photo credit: Chuck Eirschele, c 2013)

The water in Lake Mead is so blue I forget I am in a desert. I have a panoramic view looking out the windshield of our automobile pitched upward, as though we are flying into the sky, which is equally as blue. Then we descend the hill at break-neck speed. The long winding road seemingly goes on forever, cutting in and out of mountainous rock. From the back seat, I ask, “Are we at Callville Bay yet?”

A couple of times each year, we ride US Highway 93 from Arizona to Las Vegas and back again. We pass over Black Canyon Wilderness and Lake Mohave on the left and the Lake Mead National Recreation Area on the right, crossing high above the Hoover Dam situated below. Our Las Vegas destination is, as they say, “minutes away.”

Most of the bumper-to-bumper traffic bypasses the natural treasure of Lake Mead without stopping. But touring Lake Mead by car is worth expending tire tread and some time, even if one does not long-distance hike or appreciate desert heat. I learn something new with each visit, if for no other reason than to pay respects to the handiwork nature took millions of years building.

In Your Bucket Because . . .

  • You like taking trips to see the geological and geographical aspects of a region.
  • You want to see the desert wilderness around Las Vegas before it is eroded.
  • You like learning about the impact big man-made projects have on natural lands.
  • Good for families with small children and young school-aged children.
Callville Bay Marina

Modern Callville Bay Marina is an outpost for weary travelers in the desert. (photo credit: Chuck Eirschele, c 2013)

Getting to Callville Bay

In 1864, a Mormon named Call created a settlement eponymously named Call’s Landing approximately 15 miles upstream from where Hoover Dam now sits. What was left of the town, and many like it in the area, was submerged when the Hoover Dam was built, causing the Colorado River to back up and flood the land. The result of the flooding is now known as Lake Mead, and in place of Call’s Landing is Callville Bay, a marina and an oasis to stop and take in the scenic view. Years ago when we first found this picturesque spot, we were just looking for a place to buy lunch. I remember eying the bleached out hull of a wooden rowboat sitting on dry land where the water’s edge had receded.

Today again, Callville Bay is our destination. The steep zigzagging road of Northshore Road, south of the Muddy Mountains Wilderness area, directs us to the northern side of Boulder Basin, connected to Lake Mead by Boulder Canyon.

As we stand before Callville Bay, there is no sign of my favorite piece of driftwood, that old rowboat. But the water level looks dangerously low, even lower than years before. Ribbons of land are peeking out in the shallow ends. My cousin tells me the docks in the marina are on pontoons, so they can be moved as the water depth decreases further. I wonder if that is good planning or a self-full-filling prophecy.

On Lake Mead, the intake valve for the dam has been moved because the valve was almost above water level. The red and black colored mountains frames Lake Mead while ominous horizontal white lines cut across the land a little above the lake’s shoreline. Out in Lake Mead, islands of rock seem larger than the last time we visited.

Learn about Geology at Lake Mead

Story Boards at Alan Bible Visitors Center (photo credit: Chris Eirschele, c 2013)

Alan Bible Visitors Center at Lake Mead

From Callville Bay, Lakeshore Drive leads to the Alan Bible Visitors Center, off of US Highway 93. The Visitors Center has been renovated with a small desert garden of trees and shrubs outside. Indoors the information boards have some displays of Native American crafts and a soils-and-bones box with horns from a sheep, an apparently intact turtle shell and an old silver canteen among other finds.

The Lake Mead area is interpreted from a geologist’s perspective with a topographic table map at the center of the room. I use the stereoscopic glasses on display, as they would in the field, to see a three-dimensional image of a region taken by a high altitude airplane. At another board the geologist’s stratigraphic rock column allowed me to visualize all the layers of rock, in order of formation, in a long vertical column.

Before I leave, I stop at a case study board that discusses the inevitable tradeoffs between building up an urban environment and leaving habitat viable for plants and animals. Beyond the modern towns that were washed away when Hoover Dam began running, ruins such as from The Lost City Pueblo were permanently lost, except for a few salvaged artifacts.

Lake Mohave in Nevada

Red and black canyon rocks at Lake Mohave (photo credit: Chris Eirschele, c 2013)

In 2002, of the 1.5 million acres called Lake Mead National Recreation Area, 185, 000 acres were designated Wilderness. The designation means that people using the area will expect more primitive recreational experiences where quiet spaces are more highly valued. Along with the shimmering sky blue water that never disappoints.

Practicalities

  • The locales consider Memorial Day weekend the last long holiday before the hot summer season arrives, which is a consideration for people who do not enjoy 100 degree F temperatures.
  • Use a well-tuned automobile with a full tank of gas and an air-conditioner in prime working order. Bring a full-screen windshield cover for the front dashboard, in case you have to park the car.
  • Pack a cooler of ice and bottled water and bring sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat for each person.

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