May 2014 – Heading west in beautiful weather through an arid desert corner of Arizona, before entering Nevada and continuing to Lake Mead for camping at Echo Bay.
With the completion of Hoover and Davis Dams in 1935 and 1953 respectively, the mighty Colorado River was tamed and began filling up the reservoirs, creating Lakes Mead and Mohave in the midst of the Mohave Desert. The Lake Mead National Recreation Area that was later established, is a huge, 1.5 million acre park that includes nine wilderness areas of great contrasts…….water and great expanses of desert and mountains and canyons, in one of the Earth’s hottest and driest, remote back country regions.
Hoover Dam taken from the Memorial Bridge.
Views of Lake Mead
The campground at Echo Bay
Peter is the ‘camp host’ at the excellent RV Park here, prefering to live in his camper with his dog Zeuss in this peaceful, desert environment amongst the wildlife and wilderness, rather than in Vegas. He has a pet raven called Hoppy, so named as after every few steps on the ground, he has to hop due to an injured foot. Fortunately he can fly and follows Peter everywhere. To the local Piaute Indians, Peter is known as ‘The White Man who walks with Ravens’…..what a great name and one which I could imagine being a title for a book! Coyote also venture close to his camper early every morning as he goes for a walk with Zeuss, Hoppy flying close by making a great noise to warn him of these intruders.
Peter still suffers with injuries from the Vietnam war, he’s a great guy and we become good friends during our stay here and learn a lot from him. He has given me a lovely walking stick that he carved from the hard wood of a nearby eucalyptus tree but I am concerned that he needs it more than me on his walks, with all those coyote about!
Late afternoon sun lights up the distant hills across the lake and casts shadows across the desert.
This is real Rattlesnake country and we are advised to keep to the tracks on our walks. I didn’t know that a coiled rattlesnake is able to jump nearly twice its length. We never saw one of the desert tortoises that inhabit this area and are protected by miles of low, mesh fencing to try to keep them from straying on to the roads. We learn from Peter that these creatures should never be approached. They store water in their bladders and when frightened, will release all of this and are then in danger of dying from dehydration.
The hot, dry desert wind can be very violent here at times we discover, just as the weather can be very unpredictable too, as in many parts of the US. Flash floods are another real threat that have to be taken very seriously in these presently, dry, river beds.
We have to check in for camping at the local store where the guy can only slowly type with one finger, so promises to bring our paperwork up later. He tells us that he found a gopher snake on the road this morning and I was waiting for him to tell us that he ran over it. But no, he picked it up and carried on driving with it sliding around inside his shirt and then let it free out in the desert……..what a great guy! He does the same with rattlesnakes, except that he puts these inside a covered bucket whilst he drives out to find a suitable place to free them also!
A 20 minute drive from the campground brings us to The Valley of Fire State Park, a wild and virtually untouched wilderness of eroded, coloured sandstone.
This colourful sandstone was originally wind-blown sand dunes that covered thousands of square miles during the Jurassic period, when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Geologists estimate that these dunes were thousands of feet thick and that over time, the grains of sand cemented together to form solid rock.
Plants have adapted to this hot, rugged and hostile environment and many are in flower when we visit.
A trail takes us to a spectacular pink and white striped rock like a huge, curved wave in the desert and aptly named the Fire Wave.
These unusual ‘Beehives’ are just one example of the many types of lined weathering in the Valley, where rocks have been subjected to a relentless attack by harsh winds, rain, heat and cold.
Another interesting feature that we discover, is the dark ‘varnish’ that appears to stain many of the rock faces and which were favoured by the region’s ancient inhabitants as ideal sites for creating rock art.
As we return to the campground at Echo Bay, we stop at nearby Rogers Springs, an oasis in the middle of the desert, where water pours from the earth. Rogers Spring is one of the largest of many desert springs around Lake Mead, the water coming mostly from rain that falls in the deserts and highlands to the north and east of here. Travelling great distances underground, the water also gains heat from the inner layers of the earth’s rocks, keeping the waters of Rogers Spring around 80 degrees F year round.
Another dirt road takes us to Saint Thomas, once a small, thriving town but which disappeared under the waters of Lake Mead. Today however, we look out to a dry, flat valley, very green in parts. Usually submerged, this is the first time in 80 years that this whole area has been dry, which shows just how low are the waters of Lake Mead.
From Lake Mead we drive through miles of untouched desert, low mountains of various colours and winding, dry river beds to have a day in Las Vegas. Fascinating and glitzy, it’s definitely worth a visit. We head for the southern end of Las Vegas Boulevard known as ‘The Strip’ and as we are too high to get into the self parking, we leave Moby in a valet parking area in a very modern shopping mall alongside fancy porsche and maseratis.
We would imagine that to stay in a good hotel here for 2/3 days, eat out at the many restaurants, try your luck with a little gambling and go to some of the big evening shows, could be fun, but we are quite happy to return to our ‘desert home’, where the evenings are wonderfully cooler and give some relief after the very hot, day time temperatures.
We have some very nice neighbours parked near us in the campground with enormous, luxury rigs that dwarf Moby and so it is not surprising that they are fascinated with our vehicle and our life-style of travelling. Many have arrived here with their boats to spend some time fishing on Lake Mead. Frankie and Milt (from Vegas) kindly invite us for dinner along with their friends from Montana. We all sit outside and have a delicious meal, whilst a huge, full moon, slides up into the sky.
The following day, Milt brings us some fillets of Striped Bass that they have caught and they are incredibly tasty! Since the Hoover and Davis Dams were built, fish native to the Colorado River have been disappearing and some are even now considered endangered, whilst non-native fish such as the Striped Bass, have been flourishing.
Our next journey would have taken us into California to Death Valley, but temperatures are very high there at the moment. So whilst we wait for them to cool down, we decide to go back into Arizona to Mormon Lake just south of Flagstaff for the Overland Expo that is being held there and the thought of some cooler weather is also a deciding factor.