Start at the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge (pedestrian pathway from the free parking lot after the security checkpoint) for a panoramic look at America’s highest concrete arch-dam.
From the massive spillways and soaring main wall to the monumental Winged Figures of the Republic and High Scaler statue, the complex is aweinspiring. Ticketed activities include guided dam and power plant tours.
Located near the dam’s base, there’s a launch site for kayaking, canoeing or rafting down the Colorado River through ancient volcanic Black Canyon. Permits are required and all equipment must be transported by a licensed operator (list on the Hoover Dam website). Unique features along the 11-mile route include the steamy, crystal-lined Sauna Cave; volcanic Dragon’s Back outcropping; and shimmering green Emerald Cave.
The dam created America’s largest reservoir, and with it, the nation’s first official recreational area, Boulder Dam.
After adding Lake Mohave in 1947 following construction of the Davis Dam, the area was renamed Lake Mead (www.nps.gov/lake). Encompassing the two lakes along with mountains, valleys, and nine wilderness areas, the 1.5 million-acre park is Southern Nevada’s outdoor playground. Myriad attractions include the Historic Railroad Trail, offering panoramic lake views. For houseboat rentals and other recreational services, National Park Service-authorized operators include Lake Mead Mohave Adventures (www.lakemeadmohaveadventures.com).
If urbex is your game, the abandoned Three Kids manganese mine off Lake Mead Parkway features the artist-created Wheel of Misfortune in one of the site’s giant circular pits. Five bucks at the boat shop gets you parking for a memorable photo op and vigilant walkaround.
Connecting with Highway 147 from Las Vegas, nearby Highway 167 winds scenically through the park to the eastern entrance of Valley of Fire (bring cash for the entrance fee), where other photographic rewards include ancient petroglyphs and beguiling Elephant Rock.
Set on a 176-acre riverside ranch east of the park in Bunkerville, Desert Ranch Experience by Camel Safari (www.desertranchexperience.com) offers ten traditional Mongolian gers for overnight glamping and up-close encounters with 30-plus camels and other exotic animals. Enhanced programs include round-trip Canna-Camels excursions from Vegas: after buying discounted goodies at a Vegas cannabis dispensary, it’s an 80-mile road trip to the ranch for hanging out with the camels and kicking back in a ger before heading back.