Now is a great time of year to head out to Lake Mead National Recreation Area and enjoy the Historic Railroad Tunnel Trail. The moderate temperatures lend themselves to a brisk walk or ride, and the short days are no drawback to completing the relatively short and easily accessible routes this trail offers. Shared by hikers, bicyclists and runners, the gravel trail takes you through five tunnels, provides excellent views of the lake, has plenty of historic interest and even good opportunities to see desert bighorn sheep.
The trail is usually done as an easy 4.3 miles round trip to the fifth tunnel and back, with minimum elevation gain. You can also continue farther, about 1.5 miles, and get to the Hoover Dam parking garage and visit the dam. If continuing on this last part, note that the trail is primarily downhill after the fifth tunnel, so the return will be a more strenuous uphill walk.
From the parking area and trailhead, at 1,567 feet in elevation, follow the paved pathway about 50 yards or so and then go east onto the gravel access trail. About 300 yards will bring you to the railroad bed itself, where you will go left.
The roadbed you will be walking was used to assist in building what would become Hoover Dam, completed in 1935. There were three rail segments, totaling almost 30 miles, which connected cement mixing plants, quarry pits and other pertinent areas.
This segment originally started in Boulder City, went down to Hemenway Wash, and then to Himix, a concrete mixing plant at the rim of Black Canyon. After the dam was completed, the railroad was used intermittently until 1961, when one final trip was taken to deliver a generator to the dam's power plant. The following year, the tracks were taken out and sold as scrap.
After about three-quarters of a mile, on your right, you can look up the side canyon and see the Hacienda Hotel & Casino. There is a spur trail that heads up this side canyon to a spot that can be used as an alternate starting point. That trailhead is in the parking area on the east side of the hotel and is marked with a sign.
About 1 mile from the trailhead, take a look down the embankment on your right, and you will see some large broken pieces of cylindrical concrete. These are the remainders of the concrete plugs that were removed from the dam when the turbines were installed.
You will reach the first tunnel about 1.25 miles after leaving the trailhead. The tunnels are approximately 300 feet long and about 25 feet in diameter. They were built oversized to accommodate the large penstock sections and other large equipment needed in building the dam.
As you reach the fifth tunnel, look above it, and you will see a stone wall and maybe even some people looking down at you from the Lakeview Scenic Overlook parking area.
The trail after the fifth tunnel is designated for day use only, so be sure to return before dusk when the gate is locked.
Deborah Wall is the author of "Great Hikes, A Cerca Country Guide" and "Base Camp Las Vegas: Hiking the Southwestern States," published by Stephens Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.