Lake Mead: 700 miles of shore


Stern-wheeler on Lake Mead

Stern-wheeler churns its way across deep blue Lake Mead.

David Zaitz

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Scale here in the desert outside of Las Vegas is outsize. The vistas are endless, the mountain ridges repeat to infinity, and the rocky buttes manage to produce every shade there is - striped pink and brown, black and white, even yellow, green, and blue.

This is where three deserts - the Sonoran, the Mojave, and the Great Basin - come together. And this is where one of the West's most powerful rivers was stopped by one of the largest dams in the world.

Formed in 1935 by the creation of 726.4-foot-high Hoover Dam, Lake Mead can store 9.2 trillion gallons of water. It is one of the largest artificial lakes in the United States, with 700 miles of crenellated shoreline, where you can fish, paddleboat, ride a water scooter, or cruise in a houseboat. Or find countless empty beaches to call your own.

This is also a land of extreme temperatures: Summer days regularly get well over 100°. So the lake, average summer temperature 78°, is highly prized by residents and visitors who want to cool off.

Strong desert winds here make it good territory for windsurfing. And the lake's great depth makes it good for landlocked scuba divers. Fishers have pulled striped bass weighing 40 pounds from its waters.

Today Lake Mead is part of the 1.5-million-acre Lake Mead National Recreation Area, which includes nearby Lake Mojave. Boulder Basin, the southern end of the lake closest to Las Vegas and Hoover Dam, gets the most traffic, and Boulder Beach, near the recreation area entrance, can get crowded. But the lake's more remote arms, Overton to the north and Virgin Basin to the east, offer quieter retreats, places to appreciate this larger-than-life lake.


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