Las Vegas visitors have an alternative to the ersatz volcanoes on the Vegas Strip--a chain of real ones about 25 miles out of town at Lake Mead National Recreation Area near Hoover Dam.
Best known for boating, the area also has a lot to offer hikers, including vertical walled canyons, cactus-filled basins, colorful rock formations and dramatic plateaus. The hikes range from easy, leg-stretcher family jaunts to difficult cross-country routes that will challenge the most experienced hikers.
Lake Mead is huge--twice the size of the state of Rhode Island. The national recreation area sprawls from the burgeoning 'burbs east of Las Vegas to the western border of famed Grand Canyon National Park. A flooded arm of the Colorado River, Lake Mojave extends 50 miles south of Lake Mead.
After finishing the dam in 1936, the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed several miles of trail in what became the nation's first national recreation area. One CCC-built pathway, River Mountain Trail, explores the River Mountains, a range that borders the west side of the recreation area.
From the well-signed trail head off Nevada 93 in Boulder City, the trail (five miles round trip with 1,200-foot elevation gain) climbs the flanks of a volcano to the summits of Red Mountain and Black Mountain.
Trail connoisseurs will appreciate this hand-constructed footpath and the elaborate rock work that is a trademark of the CCC. Both summits offer 360-degree panoramas of southern Nevada and northwestern Arizona.
From Boulder City, drive a few more miles east on Nevada 93 to the Lake Mead National Recreation Area visitor center. Pick up maps and brochures here and inquire about the latest road and trail conditions.
Railroads were absolutely essential to Hoover Dam's construction. Trains hauled sand and gravel to the dam site and hauled away excavated "muck." Railroad buffs will head for the Historic Railroad Trail, which begins a quarter-mile north of the visitor center off Lakeshore Road. A 2.6-mile trail follows the old railway line and offers good views of the lake.
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River Mountain, Historic Railroad Trails
WHERE: Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
DISTANCE: One-half to 5.2 miles round trip.
TERRAIN: Colorado canyons and plateaus.
HIGHLIGHTS: A great escape from Las Vegas; variety of trails in hugh (Twice the size of Rhode Island) desert park.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Easy-moderate.
PRECAUTIONS: Summer too hot; best hiking October through May. Drinling water quality sometimes unacceptable; being your own.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Superintendent, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, 601 Nevada Highway, Boulder City, NV 89005; tel. (702) 293-8906.