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.
Lake Mead is about 20 miles east of Las Vegas. For general information on the lake, contact the Lake Mead National Recreation Area's Alan Bible Visitor Center ($5 day-use; U.S. 93 and Lakeshore Dr.; 702/293-8990 or www.nps.gov/lame/). Area code is 702 unless noted.
LAKE FUN: Hoover Dam. Completed in 1935, the art deco-style dam and visitor center is an awesome monument of engineering and hubris. 11 miles east of Boulder City on U.S. 93; 294-3517.
BOATING: The lake's six marinas offer rentals from personal watercraft to fishing and houseboats. Call for boat rental information: Callville Bay Resort (565-8958), Echo Bay Resort (394-4000), Lake Mead Marina (293-3484), Las Vegas Bay Marina (565-9111), Overton Beach Marina (394-4040), and Temple Bar Resort & Marina (520/767-3211). Downriver Outfitters. Float trips on the Colorado River just below Hoover Dam. From $42. 293-1190. Lake Mead Cruises. Paddle-wheel tours to Hoover Dam, as well as other day trips. From $19. 293-6180.
FISHING: The lake has largemouth bass, striped bass, bluegill, and more. A Nevada or Arizona fishing license is required (you can buy one at the marinas); Arizona-license holders need a use-stamp to fish in Nevada, and vice versa.
SWIMMING: Favorite spot is Boulder Beach, with a vast rocky beach and gentle slope into the water. Two miles north of the Alan Bible Visitor Center off Lakeshore Dr.; no lifeguard.
DINING: Lake Mead Resort Lounge. The bar makes a nice spot to relax after a day on the lake. Lake Mead Marina; 293-3484. Tail of the Whale. The nautical-themed diner serves fish-and-chips, burgers, and fries at two locations on the lake. At Echo Bay Resort (394-4000) and Lake Mead Marina (293-3484).
LODGING: All three of these lakeside lodges are operated by Seven Crown Resorts: Echo Bay Resort. Hotel with a casual seafood-based restaurant. From $85. Four miles off State 167, Overton, NV; 394-4000. Lake Mead Lodge. Lodge has motel-style rooms with nice views. From $70. 322 Lakeshore Rd., Boulder City, NV; 293-2074. Temple Bar Resort & Marina. On the lake's Arizona side, the resort has 22 motel rooms and rustic fishing cabins. From $55. U.S. 93 at milepost 19, Temple Bar, AZ; (520) 767-3211.
CAMPING: National park service campgrounds for tents and RVs are available at Boulder Beach, Callville Bay, and Las Vegas Bay. From $10. 293-8990.