Zip, Float, Hike – Lake Mead, NV

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We had thought a week at Lake Mead National Recreation Area would be long enough – wrong!  Being active in the Nevada heat induced us to take a couple of days off to just lounge around and enjoy the view from our site (Steve’s review of Lake Mead RV Village here).  But what is it that wore us out, you might wonder?

First we spent a day walking over 14 miles on the Historic National Railroad Tunnel Trail (if you missed that story, click here).  On other days we zip-lined over the top of Bootleg Canyon, drifted lazily down the Colorado river, and finally we hiked out to the Arizona Hot Springs.  Between all of those activities and trying to explore the area a bit, time flew by.

Zipping over Bootleg Canyon

When Dave and Faye visited us last Christmas, they mentioned that they’d had a great zip-line experience at Boulder City.  That was enough for Steve to list it as a “must do” while at Lake Mead.  Steve had zipped over the Royal Gorge in Colorado, and he’d been ready for more ever since.  And I must have been feeling a bit crazy myself, as I decided to join him!

The 4-segment course run by Flightlinez boasts over 1.5 miles of zipline cable running different lengths and at progressively lower elevations down Red Mountain.

The day began with  a scenic van ride to the top of the mountain, with a light-hearted narration containing historical, geological and ecological information along the way.  That was followed by a short but fairly strenuous hike to the 3,800′ peak of the mountain, with Steve carrying the trolleys we would use for our zips.  The views of Las Vegas, Lake Mead and the Eldorado Valley were awesome from up there.

Steve packing our equipment to the top, as I carried my not-so-heavy camera


Just moments before our first launch

Click below to see our first zip down the mountain at 60mph:

Zip Line Bootleg Canyon

When you see flags out to the side it means get your legs apart and prepare for a quick stop!


When I looked around after the first run I noticed a lizard had been watching me – he doesn’t seem impressed!

Our fun lasted for about three hours and covered 8,000′ on the cables.  Between runs we relaxed and enjoyed the vistas, and even spotted a trail that John and Pam had followed here.  Red Mountain is known for its Bootleg Canyon Mountain Bike Park, an internationally renowned venue for mountain bikers with different types of trails designated as “epic rides.”  We saw some bikers hitting the trails below, but we’re pretty sure zipping down was a lot easier.

Red Mountain

We saw two bikers coasting down the mountain

Lake Mead, Nevada

Looking down at Fortification Hill at Lake Mead

Las Vegas Skyline

Las Vegas skyline with Mount Charleston as the backdrop

It was quite a thrill and we had a blast!

Floating through Black Canyon

The following day we embarked on a 12-mile river rafting trip.  It followed part of the river’s 30-mile section designated as the National Water Trail of the Lower Colorado River Black Canyon.  We learned that it’s one of only 16 National Water Trails, the only one in the southwest and the only one that passes through a desert.

Our adventure began near the base of Hoover Dam, and almost under the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, giving us a different perspective of these man-made marvels from below.

Power Plant, Hoover Dam

The powerhouse at the dam

 Hoover Dam

This was a slow float downriver through historic Black Canyon, and it passed rock walls that rose up to 2,000′ above water level.

Black Canyon National Water Trail

The canyon’s name comes from the black volcanic rock in the area, believed to be between 20-40 million years old

Our informative guide taught us to note that the east (Arizona) side of Black Canyon, which has steep volcanic cliffs, was cut by water – while the west (Nevada) side has more gently rolling hills formed by erosion and basalt flows.

Double Crested Cormorants

Double-crested Cormorants on the cliffs

Floating along, we saw several sandy beaches, stopped to examine active hot springs and rode into Emerald Cave, one of several caves on both sides of the river.

Hot Spring

One of the hot springs spouting on either side of the river – and VERY hot!

Emerald Cave

Inside Emerald Cave where the water glimmered like emeralds

Black Canyon National Water Trail

The volcanic dike to the left is named Dragon’s Back, and just to the right of it can you see Abe Lincoln’s profile?

Black Canyon National Water Trail

Our lunch spot on a sandy beach

In 1934 the Civilian Conservation Corps built a gauging station in the Black Canyon on the Nevada side.  It’s purpose was to determine the impact on the environment after Hoover Dam was completed.  Engineers measured the height of the river, water flow rates and water purity.  But the most interesting story was how the workers commuted across the river to work each day.

Colorado River

The station could only be reached via a small cable car pulled across the river by the worker

Gaugers would spend months at a time in isolation monitoring the river.  The gauger’s house was on the Arizona side and getting to work involved a strenuous hike followed by a self-propelled pull across the river.  The station was in operation for 10 years, and the remnants of this crude method of water testing demonstrate the endurance of the human spirit in isolation and remoteness.

Colorado River

Catwalk along sheer cliffs that the workers navigated

Colorad River

Cable car used to transport the gauger to the station located on the Nevada side

Who knew that just a few miles from the neon lights of Las Vegas is such a quiet and refreshing place to recharge and get away from it all?  This area is really a great place to kayak, and we saw several folks doing just that.  Our tour ended at Willow Beach on the Arizona side of the river.

Hiking to the Arizona Hot Springs

There were many trails to blaze in the Lake Mead area, but we pick one that John and Pam had followed because it had a reward at the end.  The Arizona Hot Springs consisted of thigh-deep hot pools in the bottom of a deep, narrow slot canyon near the Colorado River.  To get there we took the White Rock Canyon route,  following a wash downhill to the river with the canyon towering over us to provide welcome shade.

White Rock Canyon

White Rock Canyon gets its name from the many huge white boulders that were carried down the canyon by flash floods from Wilson Ridge.

Once in the canyon we followed the riverbed a ways to Hot Springs Canyon.
Just before the springs we reached a 20′ dry waterfall with a ladder, the only way to continue to the springs.

Not sure we want to go into the hot springs that badly!

Upon arrival we discovered several people were already bathing so we decided to head back.
Arizona Hot Spring

Peekaboo, anybody home?

The towering volcanic canyons cooled us off, and the blooming wildflowers brightened the muted desert landscape.  There were so many different kinds and colors that Steve shook his head while waiting patiently for me to get photos.
Near the end of the hike we met Mike, a retired volunteer who hikes trails in the area to pick up trash thrown on the trail by thoughtless idiots.  A real nice guy, and in excellent shape for his age due to his long daily hikes.
Arizona Hot Spring

Male version of a bag lady, and he is really carrying trash! Thank you, Mike

We did a lot on this stop, but we’re already planning to come back and explore more of the trails.  For now, onward to a lesser-known Nevada gem!


Next up:  The Valley is on fire!



Walking on Man-made Marvels – Lake Mead, NV

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Nevada State LineAs we crossed the state line into Nevada, we had officially started the 5th year of our journey – we were excited!  Nevada has many excellent things to offer besides “Sin City”, one of them being the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.  Mind you, we have since discovered several other natural gems in this state, and some of them will be detailed in future posts.  But for now let’s talk about a couple of human creations.

The construction of Hoover Dam, completed in 1935, harnessed the Colorado River and created two lakes – expansive Lake Mead and Lake Mohave.  These lakes and the vast rugged desert land surrounding them became Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the first one in the United States.  Our campsite at Lake Mead RV Village was within this recreation area and featured a commanding view of the lake and surrounding mountains.


This guy is in camper heaven!

The nearby Historic Railroad Tunnel Trail is a national recreation trail that follows the route trains took while hauling supplies to build Hoover Dam in the early 1930’s.  We were eager to take an early morning walk on this very popular easy and flat gravel trail.

Historic Railroad Tunnel Trail

The rail bed of the former railroad to Hoover Dam runs along and through these hillsides


The trail by itself would have been only 4.4 miles round trip, but we started from our campground and continued on to Hoover Dam.  And since by then we were close to the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, we added a walk across its span to really rachet up the miles.

The journey was more than we’re used to, and ended 14.1 miles later with sore legs and foot blisters.  If we were to do it again we’d start from the trailhead at the visitor center, which would cut almost 5 miles off the trek.

Boulder Basin, Lake Mead

Yellow wildflowers dotted the hillsides overlooking Lake Mead

We passed through five tunnels leading to Hoover Dam.  They were all 25′ in diameter, oversized to allow huge penstock sections and large equipment to be transported on the railcars.


Trains passed through these tunnels during the dam’s construction

Along the way, plaques displayed what life was like during construction of the dam, and the hardships that the worker’s families endured.  These were some extremely tough and resilient folks!


Lake Mead National Recreation Area

With the dam completed, workers left and the area where they’d lived became Boulder Beach

Lake Mead Recreation Area

BEFORE – The landscape and the river’s southward path

Lake Mead Recreation Area

AFTER – Lake Mead is up to 500′ deep, WHEN FULL

We continued a couple more miles to walk on two modern marvels.  First, Hoover Dam, which is considered one of the exceptional engineering achievements of the 20th century.

Several walking tours are offered there, and we highly recommend them to all visitors.  We opted out this time, as we had taken one during a visit several years ago.  We also skipped the visitor center this time, as a courtesy to other folks who probably wouldn’t have wanted to smell our sweaty bodies after all that walking!

Intake Valve- Hoover Dam

Intake towers on the Arizona and Nevada sides of the river

Bath tub rings, Hoover Dam

The light-colored “bathtub ring” marks Lake Mead’s historic high water level in 1983

Hoover Dam

Standing 726′ above the dam’s base, on 4,360,000 cubic yards of concrete.  Amazing!

The art at the dam’s Monument Plaza, including Winged Figures of the Republic, was created with a message.  The artist believed that the orientation of many ancient structures included messages from their creators to people of the future.  Oskar JW Hansen designed the art here with that in mind.  For descriptions and meanings click here.

Click here for stories and essays about the dam itself.

Winged Structures, Hoover Dam

30′ high Winged Figures of the Republic

Satisfied that nothing major at the dam (except the very low water level) had changed since our last visit, we headed for the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge.  Now this was something we hadn’t seen before!

Mike O'Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

The highest and longest arched concrete bridge in the western hemisphere

The bridge is perched 890′ above the turquoise Colorado River, and wedged between the rocky cliffs of Nevada and Arizona.  It was constructed to re-route most traffic off the narrow and busy two-lane road atop the dam.

Mike O'Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

The pedestrian walkway to the bridge consisted of several short switchbacks

Mike O'Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

An array of interpretive plaques about the project lined the pedestrian entry

If you have a fear of heights this may not be your kind of experience.  We learned that eight people have jumped to their death since the opening in October 2010.

Mike O'Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

Total length of the bridge is 1,905 feet, making it the longest single-arch span in North America

Mike O'Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

These informative plaques along the span described its construction techniques

The pedestrian walkway provided us with spectacular views of the dam from a new perspective:

Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam as seen from the Arizona side of the bridge

Hoover Dam

Looking down at tourists on the dam

Nevada Arizona Stateline

Two states separated by one step on the bridge walkway

Colorado River Bridge

Where all da cars at?

Mike O'Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

The two men from Nevada and Arizona for whom the bridge is dedicated

The walk from the bridge entry to the far end of the span is 1.3 miles, and there’s no exit on the Arizona end.  After walking across and back we were more than ready to head home.

Back on the trail we cooled off a bit while walking through the tunnels again, and took a break to enjoy the panorama of Lake Mead.

Lake Mead

It was a long day of learning many superlatives about these man-made marvels; Hoover Dam as a great American technological achievement, the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge supported by the longest arch in the western hemisphere, and Lake Mead as the largest reservoir in the U.S. (when full).

And for us personally, it was the longest walk we’ve taken since starting our adventure.

What a day it was!


Next up:  Zip – Float – Hike – Yay!