I know what you’re thinking; you see that sketchy bath tub ring around Lake Mead and say to yourself: There’s probably not a lot going on out there. WRONG PLAYA. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We may be in the desert, but we sure know how to make the most of the water we do have. With Labor Day right around the corner, there are 2,337 square miles of Lake Mead National Recreation Area to explore and here’s how we’d do it:
Sail the high seas
Nothing says summertime like some good old-fashioned water sports. No boat? No problem. You can rent just about any watercraft your aquatic heart desires from places like Callville Bay Resort, Las Vegas Boat Harbor at Lake Mead Marina and Temple Bar Marina. If your idea of burning off steam includes heart thumping high-speed boats for waterskiing and wakeboarding, you’re not alone. If you’d rather fly solo for awhile, take a waverunner out for a spin.
Maybe that’s a little too intense for your taste and you want a more relaxing alternative. Kick back and soak up the sunshine with up to 10 of your friends on a 25-foot pontoon boat. Beer, bikinis and some vitamin D therapy might be just what you need to unplug (or make everybody jealous on Facebook).
Or, you could kayak down Black Canyon Water Trail, the first nationally designated water trail in the Southwestern United States. It’s a great way to see desert wildlife.
Take the plunge
It may not be the warm crystal waters of the Caribbean but Lake Mead still has some seriously interesting spots to scuba dive. In 1948, a B-29 Superfortress airplane suffered a fatal error that caused it to crash into the lake. The crew survived but the plane was a goner. Recreational divers can tour the submerged Cold War era wreckage, which has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Scuba tours can be set up through Scuba Training and Technology Inc.
While it’s likely there are still skeletal remains of mobsters sleeping with the fishes, we can guarantee you’ll see the plastic versions staged in lawn chairs with sunglasses and other hilarious poses. There are also white gypsum reefs, sheer wall diving and unusual underwater rock formations to explore.
Burn your buns
Who knew the desert would be home to natural hot springs? Thanks to the geothermal activity, Nevada has around 300 of them. Many are within driving distance from Vegas. Roger’s Springs is located off the North Shore Road between Echo Bay and Overton with four more hot springs below the Hoover Dam along the Colorado River. Sauna Cave, which is as cool as it sounds, is a few hundred yards from Portal Road beneath the dam on the Nevada side.
Goldstrike Canyon has extremely hot pools. The rock formations are dangerous, and trying to get into Goldstrike by boat can be tricky because it’s so narrow. If you’re not one to shy away from a little cardio challenge, these springs also can be reached by a 2.5-hour hike from U.S. 93.
Check out more hot springs here.
Cast a reel
You’ve got nearly 300 square miles of water to find your perfect fishing hole. In recent years, Lake Mead has made a name for itself as a great place to catch striped bass, some of which weigh in at more than 40 pounds. The lake is also good for largemouth bass, crappie, blue gill, green sunfish and catfish. But you’ll have to head over to the Lake Mohave side for rainbow trout.
Permits and supplies can be found at the marinas or any of the local bait and tackle shops.
If catching fish isn’t your thing, you can hand-feed them popcorn at the marina. We’re not gonna lie, it’s pretty bizarre. The carp are bigger than most house cats, and slither on top of each other for a handful of whatever tasty morsel you’re throwing them. There are also “fish food” dispensers that are scattered around the docks and will cost you a few quarters.
Take pictures of cool old stuff
We’re talking really old stuff. Lake Mead is home to volcanoes, rock formations and even a sunken ghost town. Pipe Spring is around 1.5 billion years old and is made of granite and metamorphic rocks. There’s also the extinct volcano Fortification Hill and the Liberty Bell Arch, to name a few.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of Mother Nature’s masterpieces, the area is also littered with American history like the pioneer settlement St. Thomas. Settled in 1865, the town was eventually consumed by the rising Colorado River, forcing the townspeople to evacuate. Now that the lake waters are receding, many artifacts are being uncovered. There are building foundations, porch steps, walls and even household items left from before the flooding. Don’t be a douche – these aren’t souvenirs so leave the relics where they belong.
There’s also old mining equipment and shafts that have been abandoned for nearly a century. The deserted equipment makes for some pretty cool photo opportunities but do not…we repeat…do NOT go into the mines. You can’t get into most of them anyway because they’ve been sealed, but nobody wants to fish your lifeless body out of a black pit (assuming they could even find you), so don’t try it.
Spend the night
And we ain’t talkin’ about booking a hotel. You can rent 60-foot Eagle or 70-foot Titanium houseboats at Callville Bay for just about as long as you’d like. With amenities like bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens and satellite TV, you’ll find all the comforts of home without ever having to come back to dry land. Some even have hot tubs and water slides, which if we’re going to be honest, is probably cooler than your back yard at home. During the day, it’s easy to dock in a cove and explore the surrounding sandstone or volcanic rock formations. But at night, the sky comes alive. The Strip isn’t the only place to stars in Vegas, once you get out of the bright lights of the big city – there’s some serious stargazing to do on the lake.
If your budget is a little closer to chump change, there are lots of places to camp in the great outdoors for about $5 to $10. There are a handful of campgrounds available and they provide running water, toilet facilities, picnic tables and grills. So much for roughing it, eh? If you’ve got an RV, the sites are fully equipped with electric, water and sewage. No need to bag or bury your business on this trip, we’re civilized folk ’round here. BTW, you’ll see the same stars as the fancy-schmancy houseboaters.