Lake Mead Gives Up Its Secrets

Lake Mead
Courtesy of Raquel Baranow (Flickr CC0)

Lake Mead is a reservoir located about 30 miles east of Las Vegas, on the border between Nevada and Arizona. The drought, affecting nearly every western state, is draining the reservoir, and Lake Mead is revealing its secrets, some from many decades in its past. Once the largest reservoir in America, its capacity today is about 27% of normal.

At least five bodies have been found as the water level continues to recede. Who they are, where they came from, and what caused their deaths are under investigation.

One other surprise for most is the revelation of an “underwater ghost town.” Although its existence was known to historians as water levels lowered and raised over decades, it is becoming of greater interest thanks to a severe drought in the west.

The town was named “St. Thomas.” It was established by Mormon settlers in 1865. The settlement flourished, boasting farms, a school, a hotel, a grocery store, a post office, an ice cream shop, and a hotel. The population once reached about 500 men, women, and children. Historians claim that the town’s residents loved their simple lifestyle, devoid of electricity and other more modern inventions.

However, change came to the small town with the election of President Calvin Coolidge. In 1928, Coolidge authorized the construction of Boulder Dam, later renamed the Hoover Dam.

Lake Mead
Courtesy of Mike McBey (Flickr CC00

The result was the creation of Lake Mead. Water levels from the Muddy and Virgin rivers began to rise, and in the 1930s, St. Thomas began to disappear as Lake Mead became deeper and deeper.

In 1938, the town’s last resident, Hugh Lord, rowed away from St. Thomas. At least two other settlements were destroyed, both occupied by Indigenous Americans, Calville and Anasazi. Once again, progress destroyed history and the existence of a simpler and quieter lifestyle.

Drought conditions revealed St. Thomas in 2012, and the town has remained visible to tourists and historians for the last 10 years.

The shrinking waters of Lake Mead have revealed other secrets, including a suspected victim of a mob killing. A barrel was discovered, and inside were the remains of a man.

There was also the discovery of a sunken boat originating back in World WarII.

The water levels will continue to recede, and National Parks Service and Las Vegas Metropolitan Police members expect Lake Mead to reveal additional secrets over the next few years.

The drought has also revealed other nearly forgotten civilizations, including the Lost City of the American Pueblos. This area, part of which became Lake Mead, was occupied by various Indigenous American tribes more than 1,000 years ago.

Located in the Moab Valley, Archaeologists have discovered multiple finds, including tools, weapons, remains of food, and skeletal remains. The vast area, now exposed by receding waters, will continue to offer historical artifacts for many years. There are ceramics, shells, jewelry, and impressive baskets on display at the Lost City Museum.

For historians, this situation will renew the value of progress vs. preserving our nation’s history. It is a legitimate concern. We remain a young nation and have destroyed more than a century of our country’s past since the beginning of the 20th century and the Industrial Revolution. The discussion will be whether the convenience of mankind is of greater importance than the destruction of our nation’s natural resources and rustic beauty.

By James Turnage, Novelist

AZ Animals: Lake Mead Is So Low It’s Revealed An 1865 Ghost Town; by Volia Nikaci
The Guardian: Lake Mead: shrinking waters uncover buried secrets and grisly finds; by Dani Anguiano
The Independent: Fifth set of human remains found at Lake Mead; by Ethan Freedman

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Raquel Baranow’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Mike McBey’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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