A Drive to Overton Along Lake Mead
With a cloudless azure sky and a comfortable 68 degrees, it seemed like the perfect day to take my own advice, put the top down and head to the desert. From the Strip, we took Sahara Ave straight east to Hollywood Blvd.* and headed north to E. Lake Mead Blvd. Take a right onto Lake Mead and drive east to the edge of town. Don’t miss the spectacular view of Vegas Valley at the top of the ridge just before the road disappears between the high rocks, out of Las Vegas and into wide open spaces. It happens so quickly, just one moment to the next. The vista at that precise point captures the snow caps of Mt. Charleston and sweeps past the skyline of the Strip, anchored by the Stratosphere in the north and Mandalay Bay at the south. Those apartment complexes nestled on the incline have a million-dollar view.
Driving through the Marscape on a good, well-surfaced, narrow road, you’ll catch a glimpse of the sapphire Lake Mead among the dun-colored hills just before you reach the entrance to Lake Mead National Recreation Center. A friendly National Park employee will collect $5, hand over maps and literature and wish you a pleasant day. More winding and gentle ups and downs and you arrive at a T which is North Shore Rd. or Route 167. A discreet sign indicates Hoover Dam to the right and the Valley of Fire to the left. Today we are heading north to Overton, so left we go.
The first public road down to the Lake heads for Callville Bay. It twists gently for about four miles before you see the campground, trailer park and massive boat docks floating on the clear, dazzling-blue inlet. Houseboats, private and for rental, fill the hundreds of slips. The public facilities are clean and well-equipped with snack bar, small shop for essentials and a separate bar and lounge area affording a sweeping view, dance floor, pool table and ATM machine. There were big pitchers of ice water, a sight that must be heartily welcomed in the heat of summer along with the enormous a/c vents that pump life-saving cool air during the torrid months of July and August. The public bathrooms were spacious and very clean.
It is easy to observe the lowering water line by noting the colored striations on the coastal rock, and disquieting to realize that the Lake will probably never reach those heights (or rather depths) again. Too many people, too little water is the recurrent contention in the West, and the politics of water is the driving force of most power struggles here.
Leaving Callville, we continue north on Route 167 towards Echo Bay. The Black Mountains are to our right, obscuring the Lake. A vast sweep of rock, arroyos and small mesas lie to our left and end with the Muddy Mountain range that isolates Bitter Spring Valley from the harsh landscape fronting I-15. Lone vehicles are parked in the wadi; trekkers headed off along lonely hiking trails. Red stone croppings jut up from the brown earth, giant formations of iron oxide rock, molded and polished by wind, sand and eons of scarce rain. It is a foreshadowing of the Valley of Fire, with flame-colored natural sculptures contrasted against black peaks, harsh and starkly stunning in the long shadows of the afternoon sun.
Echo Bay proves a little cozier than Callville, although the lake view is nowhere as encompassing. Just as you turn off Rte 167, you notice a small rectangular sign with the silhouette of an airplane on blue background – an airfield in the distance. Civilization is close at hand. The campground has been planted with oleander and a handful of palm trees, the harsh neighborhood softened by dusty green. The neat residential compound houses Park employees while the rambling trailer park is home to civilians. School is just ten miles by bus up the road, through the desert, to Overton. Echo Bay boasts a hotel with a bar and restaurant salty with nautical bits and pieces, giant wooden steering wheels, brass lamps and thick braided ropes crisscrossing the ceiling. The food is typical American fare, not bad, but not great. My chili was tasty and the beer cold.
Rte 167 melds into Rte 169 north to Overton or west to Valley of Fire State Park. We had just enough time to get to the Lost City Museum before closing, so we drove past the turnoff for Valley of Fire and pledged to make that trip another day. If you want to see both Overton and the Valley, allow yourself a full day, not the 5 hours we allotted.
The Lost City Museum comes up fast on the left before you enter Overton. Perched on top of a small hill, it has been carefully landscaped and planted with pleasing desert vegetation. Your first sight as you cross the railroad tracks and start the curving ascent is a glimpse of the adobe walls of the Indian Pueblo Grande looming over your head. The Museum was originally constructed in 1935, fallout from the Hoover Dam Project, political payback for the number of Anasazi/Paiute archaeological sites that were inundated by Lake Mead. The Federal Government eventually withdrew financial support and the museum stayed open thanks to the dedication of local volunteers. Today it is part of the Nevada Division of Museums and History and under the Nevada Department of Cultural Affairs.
The Museum building was constructed adjacent to an actual dig which was roofed over in the 1970′s and incorporated into the main building. The focus of the museum is the story of the Anasazi, followed by the Southern Paiute who, once flourishing in the Moapa and Virgin River Valley , abandoned their many settlements, probably due to draught . The term Lost City refers to a string of villages that once speckled the region. The Museum displays the usual artifacts, maps, artistic renditions and story boards. The original archaeological dig is cleverly displayed as the focal point of the annex. The souvenir shop is large and offers Indian jewelry, T-shirts, plastic desert critters, dinosaur models etc. for sale. There is a glass case displaying Indian Pawn Jewelry, a bit of a sad note.
The outdoor cluster of recreated Anasazi pueblos and storage units is worth a look. You are immediately struck by how small the inhabitants must have been. The doorways seem made for children and the interior space quite confined. The dimensions are purported to be accurate and the buildings constructed over prehistoric foundations. It’s good to be reminded how easy we actually have it. The Museum is open daily from 8:30a-4:30p with ample parking for RV’s and buses. The entrance fee is $3 for adults and $2 for seniors/children. It is located at 721 S. Moapa Valley Blvd (Rte 169), on your left as you drive into Overton. 702-397-2193.
We were drawn to the museum to see the photographs of Marcella Brendible, a Native American from Alaska whose business card reads BlueRaven Fine Art Photography, Las Vegas. Only about ten photographs were displayed, but they were all high quality. Tight floral close-ups shots were complemented by colorful desertscapes and abstract pool reflections. The photographer has a keen eye for detail, color and composition supported by impressive technical skill. The exhibit is scheduled for the month of March.
We had no expectations about the town of Overton and were pleasantly surprised to discover a quiet, well-kept main street with a number of interesting buildings and signage. You can immediately see that this is a proud community with a strong sense of self-identity. I was especially intrigued by the vintage Pioneer movie theatre and gracious Catholic Church, fronted with tall palms. We stopped at the Red Rooster for a beer and to meet any locals that wanted to talk. As usual in a small town, the natives were friendly, but plenty used to visitors here. As much as it feels a long way from anywhere, you’re really just a few miles off the interstate. Told that the town does everything for its kids, we saw proof in the number of well-kept and appointed sports fields lining the main road out of town.
There are many Vegas tour companies that offer guided ATV excursions around the area, but according to one local, the truly adventurous rent one of the ATVs at Overton Motorsports, drive out of their lot and take off into the desert. There is plenty of off-road terrain open to drivers and Motorports will help out with directions and a map. The rental is $85 for half day and $125 for a full day. Hours are 8:30a-4:30p; they???????e located on the main drag at 250 So. Moapa Valley Blvd. There are only 5 or 6 ATV’s for rental, so call ahead and reserve. 702-397-8888. www.overtonmotorsports.com.
You are back in civilization once you hit Overton and travel up to I-15. The housing is rural-suburban, certainly not dense, but definitely populated. There are some impressive homes with generous lots, and judging by the modest one-story house I saw listed at the real estate office for $259K, I wouldn’t be looking for too many bargains. At the I-15, you have the choice to turn north to Mesquite, or return to Las Vegas, the lights, crowds and bustle of the Strip only 40 minutes away.
*If you want to avoid the congested intersection, take a left at Treeline Drive and drive through the residential area until you reach American Beauty Ave. Go right to So. Hollywood Blvd., turn left onto Hollywood travelling north to E. Lake Mead Blvd.