Entry fees to the park are separate from Lake Mead Mohave Adventures’ fees. For more information, please visit the National Park Service’s fees page.

Colorado River

Tracing the Historic Journey of the Colorado River and Hoover Dam

The Colorado River, often referred to as the “lifeblood of the Southwest,” has a storied history that intertwines with the construction of one of America’s greatest engineering marvels, the Hoover Dam. This historic journey, spanning hundreds of miles, from the river’s origin to its end, is a testament to human ingenuity and the enduring power of nature. 

We will embark on a journey that takes us from the humble beginnings of the Colorado River to its majestic end at the Hoover Dam, sharing about its critical role in providing water, electricity, and a glimpse of a submerged past in St. Thomas.

The Origin: Rocky Mountains to Lake Powell

The Colorado River, one of the most iconic waterways in the United States, begins its journey high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Its headwaters are found in the pristine wilderness of Rocky Mountain National Park, where melting snow and rainwater feed into small tributaries, which eventually converge to form the mighty Colorado.

As it gathers strength and volume, the river flows through stunning canyons, including the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Glenwood Canyon. It eventually reaches Lake Powell, a massive reservoir that straddles the border of Utah and Arizona. This part of the river’s journey is characterized by breathtaking landscapes and dramatic shifts in elevation. From serene mountain streams to turbulent rapids, the Colorado River is a force of nature that shapes the region it flows through.

Feeding Lake Mead Reservoir: A Vital Water Source

Continuing on its journey, the Colorado River flows into another crucial reservoir, Lake Mead. Lake Mead, created by the Hoover Dam, is the largest reservoir in the United States, storing water for both domestic and agricultural use in the arid Southwest. This reservoir, formed by the damming of the Colorado River, plays a pivotal role in providing water to millions of people in Arizona, Nevada, and California.

The flow of the Colorado River into Lake Mead is a testament to the river’s significance in supplying water to a region where water is a precious resource. The dam, built during the Great Depression, was an ambitious project that aimed to harness the river’s power for electricity generation and control its flow to mitigate floods and provide a reliable water supply.

From Flow to Power: The Hoover Dam

The Hoover Dam, initially known as the Boulder Dam, was a monumental undertaking during the 1930s. Located on the border between Arizona and Nevada, this engineering marvel was designed to serve multiple purposes, with water storage and electricity generation at the forefront. The dam, standing at an impressive 726 feet tall, created Lake Mead and effectively controlled the Colorado River’s flow.

The construction of the Hoover Dam was an incredible achievement of its time. Thousands of workers labored tirelessly in the harsh desert environment, overcoming challenges such as extreme heat and treacherous conditions. The dam was completed in 1936, and it immediately began to fulfill its intended purposes.

Electricity Generation: Powering the Southwest

One of the most significant contributions of the Hoover Dam is its role in electricity generation. The dam’s hydroelectric power plant harnesses the potential energy of the Colorado River to produce a substantial amount of electricity. This electricity is distributed to cities and towns across the Southwest, providing a reliable source of power for homes, businesses, and industries.

The Hoover Dam generates enough electricity to power over a million homes, making it a crucial component of the region’s energy infrastructure. The turbines inside the dam convert the kinetic energy of flowing water into electrical power, demonstrating how the river’s flow has been transformed into a powerful source of energy.

St. Thomas: A Submerged Relic of the Past

As we continue our journey downstream from the Hoover Dam, we come across an intriguing piece of history submerged beneath the waters of Lake Mead. St. Thomas, once a thriving community, now lies beneath the reservoir’s surface. This ghost town was established in the 1860s and was inhabited by settlers who sought opportunities in the fertile lands along the Colorado River.

However, the construction of the Hoover Dam and the subsequent filling of Lake Mead led to the town’s abandonment. As the water levels rose, St. Thomas was gradually submerged, and its buildings disappeared beneath the surface. Over the years, fluctuating water levels have occasionally revealed remnants of the town, offering glimpses into a bygone era.

Explorers and historians have dived into the depths of Lake Mead to document the submerged town, uncovering remnants of buildings, streets, and artifacts from the past. St. Thomas serves as a poignant reminder of the transformative power of water and the indelible mark that human activities can leave on the landscape.

A Journey of Flow and Power

The historic journey of the Colorado River, from its origins in the Rocky Mountains to its transformation into a powerful force at the Hoover Dam, is a testament to human ingenuity and the impact of water on our lives. From its role in providing water for agriculture and drinking to generating electricity for millions, the Colorado River and Hoover Dam have shaped the landscape and livelihoods of the Southwest.

As we delve into the historic journey of the Colorado River and the Hoover Dam, we gain a deeper appreciation for the intricate relationship between water, power, and human civilization. This journey is a living testament to the enduring power of nature and the ability of human innovation to harness it for the benefit of society. The Colorado River will continue to flow, and the Hoover Dam will continue to generate electricity, ensuring a sustainable future for the Southwest while preserving the rich history that lies beneath its waters.