Redstone Picnic Area's petrified sand dunes
Hike the canyons
Just as Hoover Dam can overwhelm with its size, so too does the recreation area's landscape. From the Grand Canyon to Laughlin, Nevada, this is vast, empty country. But if the dam's real beauty is in its details, the same is true of Lake Mead's desert.
Outside Laughlin, Grapevine Canyon is tucked into a fold of the Newberry Mountains. The vegetation here is classic desert: creosote, barrel cactus, and Mojave yucca. But one pocket is verdant, with a tangle of native grapevines growing among granite boulders. The springwater that keeps the vines alive also drew several Indian tribes centuries ago ― as evidenced by extensive petroglyphs, ranging from abstract swirls and grids to one panel showing desert bighorn sheep.
While Grapevine Canyon's water only trickles, other Lake Mead canyons reveal the power of desert flash floods. A few miles south of the dam, White Rock Canyon winds through serpentine passageways deep within towering walls of volcanic rock. It was named for large white boulders that sit among the granite that floodwaters washed from surrounding mountains.
The canyon serves as one of the few routes where you can easily reach the Colorado River. After shuffling through the wash's gravel and rounding bend after rocky bend, the canyon finally opens to the river. Hoover Dam controls the Colorado's flow, but the peaks and rock walls that enclose the river are reminiscent of the Grand Canyon. Plus there's another payoff: a side trail that leads to a hot springs. (The downside of hot-potting here is that a long soak can fondue both your legs and ambition, turning the modest 3-mile return into a sandy slog.)