Grand dam

Architectural wonder, canyon-country gateway

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  • Kayaking Black Canyon

    Kayaking Black Canyon

History revealed

Although Lake Mead's Northshore Road is near Las Vegas, its volcanic buttes and sandstone formations are worlds from the Strip's artificiality. Short hikes lead to landscapes straight out of a dream ― look closely and you may even see bighorns melting into the terrain.

As you walk through the expanses near North Callville Wash, it's hard to imagine that much awaits ahead. Then the route drops into Lovell Wash, and the walls close to form Lovell Wash Narrows. Here the tilting and winding layers of sandstone have a dizzying effect as you pass through the labyrinth that closes to an arm span across.

Not all of Northshore Road's attractions are so hidden. The Redstone Picnic Area's Aztec sandstone outcrops sit alongside the drive. These formations, actually petrified sand dunes, reveal intricate layers of sediment, as well as wind-sculpted caverns, with surfaces as graceful and smooth as Pueblo pottery.

This area marked the western reach of the Ancestral Puebloan culture. Before Lake Mead filled, excavations saved artifacts from Lost City, a group of pueblos along the nearby Muddy and Virgin Rivers. The lake was an equal-opportunity inundator and also swamped early Mormon settlements, such as St. Thomas, a community founded in 1865. Now, as Lake Mead has receded, foundations and chimneys of St. Thomas have reappeared.

Once an arm of the lake, the delta here is today choked with thick stands of invasive tamarisk. To see St. Thomas offers a glimpse of the past and, if the drought persists, serves as a harbinger of a drier future too. Hoover Dam may be big enough to tame the Colorado River, but some forces of nature remain far beyond our control.

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