Providing beautiful desert and lake views during any season, Lake Mead's 11-mile scenic drive on Lakeshore Road invites exploration of lesser-known attractions within Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Stop by the main visitor center; explore hiking possibilities; drive to scenic viewpoints or down to the lake; picnic within view of the water; camp overnight or longer or visit a major hatchery.
Access Lakeshore Drive either through Boulder City on U.S. 93 or by way of Lake Mead Parkway from Henderson past Lake Las Vegas. By either route, expect to stop at an entrance station where a $5 fee applies. Various federal passes waive or reduce this fee and fees at all national parks, monuments, recreation areas and other public lands. Inquire at the entrance station or visitor center about obtaining one of these passes if you are a senior citizen, handicapped or a frequent visitor to a specific area like Lake Mead.
Visitors stopping by the Alan Bible Visitor Center receive an overview of the recreation area's history, natural features, plants and animals and recreational opportunities. The visitor center lies on U.S. 93 four miles from Boulder City, reached by a spur from Lakeshore Road. Take time to peruse the exhibits, view the excellent short film, browse through the book shop and walk through the outdoor native plant garden. This garden shows off desert plants, including a few like golden brittlebush now in bloom despite the lack of rainfall this winter.
Just beyond the turnoff to the visitor center, look for a large parking area near the start of the historic railroad tunnels trail. Several miles in length, the trail follows the roadbed of trains in use in the 1930s to haul construction materials to the Hoover Dam construction site. The popular trail route accesses rugged mountains and beautiful views using several old railroad tunnels. Expect a little altitude gain on the way back and treacherous footing where runoff carries rocks and loose gravel across the pathway.
Major developments make Boulder Beach a destination along Lakeshore Road. Turn off to find a campground, trailer and RV village, a motel and beach access. All the facilities are far from the water's edge at present because of the more than 100-foot drop in the lake's water level due to regional drought. Declining lake levels over several years forced authorities to move boating access points and marina facilities to deeper waters at various points around Lake Mead.
Lakeshore Road provides opportunities to observe the changed shoreline. The lighter-colored "bathtub ring" around the lake's margin delineates its topography. Maps list Saddle Island as a major feature along this shore. The falling lake level created a peninsula of that island, now solidly linked to the shore.
The National Park Service created several interesting viewpoints along Lakeshore Road. Turn off the main road onto paved spurs that take you out to little plateaus, r-idgetops or bluffs for panoramic views over the lake and mountains. Each of these viewpoints includes several pleasant shaded picnic sites with nearby trash receptacles and new restrooms. At some viewpoints, little trails explore nearby arroyos or miniature canyons leading to the water. Pack picnic fare, beverages and water and enjoy the serene views.
A new short nature trail opened last month near the still-closed Lake Mead Fish Hatchery just off Lakeshore Road. Still unmarked, it begins at the right of the parking lot entry gates with a set of steps cut into a hillside. Outlined by rocks, the meandering trail follows the outflow stream from the fish hatchery. Volunteers, including members of Trout Unlimited and the Las Vegas Fly-Fishing Club, completed the trail in advance of the reopening of the hatchery's visitor center by the Nevada Department of Wildlife. Interpretative exhibits and aquariums await hatchery visitors in the future. For now a four-panel kiosk at the edge of the parking lot near padlocked gates explains the facility's functions.
Until the Lake Mead hatchery reopens, see fish being raised at the federal hatchery at Willow Beach on the Arizona side of the Colorado River. The Nevada facility and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hatchery at Willow Beach raise some of the same kinds of fish, but they stock different waters.
Margo Bartlett Pesek's column appears on Sundays.