Thunder Mountain Trail, Red Canyon, UT


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"With striking landscapes and brilliant blue waters, this year-round playground spreads    
across 1.5 million acres of mountains, canyons, valleys, and two vast lakes. See the
Hoover Dam from the waters of Lake Mead or Lake Mojave, or find solitude 
in one of the park's nine wilderness areas."
~ Home page for Lake Mead National Recreation Area

It was more than a little ironic that the day we chose to drive the scenic route on the western side of huge Lake Mead it was raining so hard at one point that we had to pull over for several minutes to wait out the deluge.

Why was that ironic?

For one thing, this area gets fewer than four inches of rain annually. In just two days this week, some areas east and north of Las Vegas got about half of that amount and had some flooding.

Since it was cloudy today, then overcast and raining hard before we left the rec. area, we didn't get to see the water reflected in what's usually a clear blue sky and the photos I took of colorful rock walls along the scenic road are dark and muted.

This is the best picture of the lake I got, before dark clouds and rain moved in.  (Echo Bay)

The real irony, however, is that the water level on Lake Mead was at a record low in June, 2016, just two months after we visited. That's according to another page on the National Park Service's website for this recreation area that was updated in 2018.

Yep, I'm that far behind on these journal entries! And, sadly, I doubt the rain we experienced in April, 2016 made much of a difference.

We knew the area was in a lengthy and significant drought -- at least 13 years -- so we didn't complain about the rain during our day trip to the recreation area. The whole Colorado River Basin sorely needs more rain or many millions of folks downstream who depend on this source of water are going to be in serious trouble pretty soon.

The most noticeable evidence of the drought for visitors like us is the tall white ring of rock around the lake above the water level:

That boat business has had to relocate down to the much lower lake level!!

The white ring is composed of minerals deposited on the rock walls when the lake level was much higher.

When we got close to the water at the Echo Bay marina it appeared that the top of the ring was at least 30 feet above the water:

Maybe I guessed wrong!

As I'm writing this in June, 2018, the link re: drought at Lake Mead states that "since 2000, Lake Mead water surface elevation has dropped over 143 feet, going from full to only 38% of the total storage capacity."

Yikes! When I click on that web page and scroll down, I see graphic photos of the water depth behind Hoover Dam in 2001 and 2015. The difference is stunning.

I copied these photos from that page:

Lack of water in Lake Mead doesn't just affect the people downstream who depend on it for drinking water and other purposes.

It also affects millions of acres of farmland where much of our country's produce, citrus fruits, and other crops are grown -- which means it affects everyone, not just people in that area. The lack of water also affects many other local businesses, like those that depend on the tourist trade. The economic impact is huge.


You can read all about the sight-seeing, recreational, and other things to see and do in this huge recreational area from the official website. Since all we did was a relatively quick drive-by on the northwestern side of the rec. area, I'm just showing pictures I took on April 9, 2016.

We do plan to go back to this area sometime in the future -- hopefully on a sunny day when I can get better photos! Maybe we'll go to Hoover Dam then, too. I've never been there and it's been a long time since Jim saw it.

Here's part of a map from the NPS website that shows the close proximity of Lake Mead to Las Vegas.

I marked our loop route on this day trip north from Nellis AFB to Valley of Fire State Park and down along the northwestern side of Lake Mead:

This map section shows only part of the 1.5 million acres of the rec. area and its nine wilderness areas.

After we left Valley of Fire State Park in the early afternoon we followed NV 169 south and west above Lake Mead. This scenic two-lane road is hilly and curvy but wide, smooth, and suitable for even large RVs.

There is an entrance station at the north end of the recreation area. Although some national recreational areas are free for visitors, this one has fees similar to national parks. We got in free with our NPS senior pass.

In the first few miles we were disappointed to catch only slight glimpses of the lake, which was formed when the Colorado River was backed up by the Hoover Dam about 80 years ago. We drove down to a boat launch at Echo Bay so we could see the water better:



That's when we could see how low the lake level was.

I like to find beauty wherever I can, so although I was disappointed in what remains of this lake right now, I was happy to see these brightly colored shrubs growing at Echo Bay:




We went back out to the main road and continued south, hoping for more views of the water but we could see it only one more time on our loop route.

I took photos of interesting desert terrain and rock colors before and after the hard rain that forced us to take a time out for several minutes:









Our GPS directed us back to Vegas and Nellis AFB via Lake Mead Blvd. through Sunrise Mountain Conservation Area, which we didn't know was there. I later learned there is a trail up the mountain so we might check that out next time we're here, too.

Next several entries:  lots of sunny photos from uber-popular Zion National Park

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup

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2016 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil