Lake Mead Recreation Area, America’s first and largest national recreation area spreads across 1.5 million acres of mountains, canyons, valleys and two vast lakes, making it a huge playground for boaters, fishermen, hikers and those of us who just want to soak in the beautiful scenery and visit the local attractions.
To put the size in perspective, the Lake Mead Nat’l Recreation Area at 2338 square miles is about twice the size of the state of RI (1214 sq mi), spans about 57 miles east to west and 100 miles north to south, abuts the Grand Canyon and encompasses 240 miles of the Colorado River.
It’s really difficult finding the appropriate adjectives to describe the sheer beauty of the scenery within the Lake Mead National Recreational Area – awe inspiring, stunning, picturesque, glorious and majestic are a few that come to mind but somehow seem totally inadequate when writing about it.
A Revisit To Hoover Dam
Visiting Hoover Dam again (a repeat performance from 2017) a few days before Christmas, obviously a prime holiday vacation period, turned out to be a terrible idea. Traffic was very slow moving, sometimes even stop and go, sidewalks were packed with people and there was limited parking availability. Still reticent to be around large groups of people due to Covid, even outdoors, battling the crowds was not something we wanted to do. Instead we opted to drive through the area, stopping at a few of our favorite overlook spots, especially the less popular ones, for photo ops.
Strolling Across The Pat Tillman – Mike O’Callaghan Bridge
Named after Mike O’Callaghan, a former governor of Nevada and former executive editor of the Las Vegas Sun and Pat Tillman, a professional football player for the Arizona Cardinals who joined the Army in 2002 and was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2004. US93 once passed across the top of Hoover Dam, this new bridge relocates it 1700 feet downstream from the dam (and way above it!) spanning the Black Canyon and connecting Arizona and Nevada. You can read more about this major engineering feat in the details of our 2017 post.
It’s suspended by a 1,060 foot, twin-rib concrete arch, the largest of its kind in North America, is 1,900 feet long and is 890 feet above the Colorado River. A pedestrian walkway on the north side of the bridge extends across the entire span. The views from this vantage point are spectacular.
These days the only way to get to Hoover Dam is from an exit off US93 on the Nevada side where you must pass thru a security checkpoint. The bridge access is via a separate parking lot after passing thru security, but before you get to the dam. There are several flights of stairs to climb or an elaborate ADA ramp. Along the climb to the bridge walkway are many informative exhibits. There are no fees.
The walkway is separated from the roadway part of the bridge by a tall concrete divider, but you can still feel the bridge bounce and sway as traffic crosses. The view of the dam is equal to being in an aircraft looking down at it, just fantastic. We surmise one reason for the tall concrete divider, besides protecting the pedestrians, is to block the spectacular view from crossing drivers when they should be paying attention to the road.
For a panoramic, idyllic view of Boulder Basin, a visit to this picturesque overlook located 4 miles west of Hoover Dam is a must for any visitor. From here, one can get a true understanding of the vastness of southern Nevada’s incredible landscape. On the day we were there, Lake Mead’s clear sparkling blue waters shimmered vibrantly and were perfectly contrasted by the dark volcanic rock of the Black Mountains in the distance. The photo below also highlights how far the water has receded.
To the northeast are the Rock, Boulder and Saddle Islands. Further off in the distance are the Callville Mesa, Muddy Mountains and Black Mountains. Looking northwest is Hemenway Harbor, the giant long-abandoned railroad tunnels of the Hoover Historic Railroad Trail and power lines from Hoover Dam.
A Revisit to Hemenway Harbor
Entertainment abounds at the Las Vegas Boat Harbor & Lake Mead Marina! Not by people or boats but by the constantly hungry ducks and fish clamoring to be fed. Lucky for us there were some kids who had bought some food and were feeding them.
Driving North On Lakeshore & Northshore Roads
From there, we turned north onto Lakeshore Road, passing by the Lake Mead Recreation Area Entrance Station. Because we had the National Parks Senior Pass, the $25 entrance fee was waived.
Along this long drive there were numerous scenic overlooks. In general, however, no need for a scenic overlook, spectacular scenery surrounded us every mile along the way.
Finally we arrived at our final destination for the day! Wow!
The Redstone Dune Trail is a 1/2 mile, easy loop that meanders through petrified Jurassic-age (Aztec sandstone) sand dunes known as the Redstone Dunes. Along the trail are the abundance of holes, caves, arches, and other formations in the rock formed by what is known as tafoni weathering. The sand grains of the sandstone are cemented together by minerals, and the creation of these odd formations starts with the repeatedly wetting and drying of the sandstone, dissolving and redistributing a bit of the cement each time.
Our phones were clicking fast and furious taking a myriad of photos, certainly too many to add to this post. Instead feel free at your leisure to peruse our photo album of our adventures by clicking here. Perhaps use them to lull you to sleep before bedtime! :>)
After walking the 1/2 mile loop trail, it was time for us to head back – it was late in the afternoon and we wanted to be back to Willow Beach before dark and had an 80 minute drive ahead of us. The scenery on the way back was even more incredible, thanks to the late afternoon lighting.
It was a quiet evening at the campground that night – we were exhausted from soaking up all the scenery!