Tuesday, Sep. 09, 2008

Hoover Dam and Lake Mead

There's no better way to knock yourself back to reality from your Vegas stupor than listening to an old person spew boring history about a dam. The Hoover Dam tour, which is a 40-minute drive away through stark, hot desert, was always a little lame — and it's even lamer now due to Homeland Security. But, still, if you like dams this is the one to see. Plus, you can boat and water ski at Lake Mead, the man-made reservoir formed by Hoover Dam that is quickly drying up from global warming. I've seen it all lots of times from my airplane, and I get how big the dam is, how it's a feat of engineering — how we humans really can do anything. But I already knew that from Vegas.

From the Strip, the fastest way to get to Lake Mead National Recreation Area is to use the Boulder City entrance, which hosts the Visitor Center and the largest marina. The Hoover Dam is just beyond the Visitor Center. Take Highway 215 East toward Henderson, then Highway 93 toward Boulder City, on into the park; the dam is about 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas. The park website has detailed maps. Or, even better, just rent a car with GPS.

Red Rock Canyon

The desert can be really beautiful, so take an hour, no matter how hot it is, and drive 15 miles from the Strip to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and go for a hike (or at least a drive) through the multicolored mountains. Take West Charleston Boulevard (Route 159) from the Strip; it's about a 25-minute drive. (You can feel good about going here because, unlike Red Rocks Park in Colorado, it has not been despoiled by John Tesh.) Afterward, when you return to town, sneak into the pool at the Red Rock Hotel to cool off.