We spent the rest of the day cruising under a clear, cobalt sky. The shore of Lake Mead presents endless opportunities for exploration. We poked into coves guarded by steep, red rock walls and carried our cooler ashore at a secluded beach. The canyon walls that surround most of Lake Mead are marked with a white ring that climbs some 30 feet above the waterline, evidence that the water level in the lake is at its lowest point since the early 1970s, due mostly to a lack of winter snowpack in the Rocky Mountains. Each spring, this melting snow swells the lesser rivers that feed the Colorado and Virgin Rivers, which in turn fill the lake. The water level had no impact on our boating, however, as most launch ramps remain accessible.
The next day, we towed our boat over the top of Hoover Dam (be prepared for a security inspection of all trailers), up the steep grade of Highway 93 on the other side and onward about 15 miles to the road to Willow Beach, a marina facility on the river below Hoover Dam. We launched there and cruised north within the dark, vertical walls of aptly named Black Canyon. It's about 10 miles to the point where navigation is prohibited at the base of Hoover Dam. Deep in Black Canyon, it's possible to imagine what much of the Lake Mead area looked like before the dam filled the canyons and covered the river rapids that menaced the steamboats that plied the river in the late 19th century.
Following a tip from a friend, we located a trail in a gap in the canyon wall leading to a small hot spring and enjoyed a short soak before heading back downstream to Willow Beach. That evening, as we crested the heights at Boulder City after passing back over Hoover Dam, the sizzling skyline of Las Vegas exploded into view below us, a shocking site after a day spent floating in the wilderness of the canyon. The miracle of the desert? We'll take Lake Mead.