Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Hike 2016.001 -- Railroad Trail, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, NV

Hiked Saturday, January 2. 10 miles. The Historic Railroad Trail follows the bed of, yes, the historic railroad tracks that brought much of the materials necessary for Hoover Dam's construction down from Boulder City to the dam construction site.

It stars near the Alan Bible Visitor Center for Lake Mead National Recreation Area. To get there, take U.S. Highway 93 south from Las Vegas and Henderson. Currently, U.S. 93 is a divided, limited access highway ("freeway") until you are about to leave Henderson. Then it becomes a non-limited access highway.
It's not unusual once the freeway ends that you'll be stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic approaching and leaving Boulder City.

You'll eventually have to make a left to stay on U.S. 93. Once you've done that, the traffic usually picks up somewhat. Then you've got a long, long, long downhill grade towards Hoover Dam. After about 3.8 miles, the left turn lane for Alan Bible Visitor Center should be on your left.
You'll now be on Lakeshore Road. The turn to the Visitor Center will be on your right, about 1/10th of a mile down the road. There's also trail parking, another 1/10th of a mile past the Visitor Center. The latter is a very small parking area, so you may find it necessary to park up at the Visitor Center. Of course, if it's really crowded, the Visitor Center lot will also be full. If so, then I'm not sure what your options are.
From the Visitor Center, looking to the east, you'll see the railroad grade run from near the trail head parking, off into the distance, and along the side of a distant hill. You'll also see a tall hotel and casino behind that hill. That's the Railroad Pass Hotel and Casino. It used to be the Gold Strike. I mention this because there's a nearby trail to hot springs that goes by the name of, "Gold Strike." Never been to this one, and it sounds a little difficult to get to, so I'm not sure if I'll make that trip.
Once on the Historic Railroad trail, it's pretty hard to get lost. Just stay on the grade, and follow the occasional sign.

There's an unsigned but obvious trail from the railroad grade to the Casino, by the way. I assume it continues all the way up to the highway, but I did not check.
The trail passes through five tunnels. After exiting the fifth, you're at a small picnic area. On the day I hiked, the pit toilet there was locked.

Passing this area, you can see the two-lane road that comes down from U.S. 93 to Hoover Dam. Cars may be backed up on that road as you walk by.

Following this scene, there's a sign indicating either one mile to the Dam via the "Historic" grade, or a "shortcut" that goes more directly to the Dam. I'm not sure, but it did not seem all that much shorter. But, there you go.

The "shortcut" also approaches to within 1/2 mile of the access point for the O'Callaghan - Tillman Memorial Bridge. If you detour there and decide to walk across the bridge, it's about 1/3 of a mile from one side to the other.
Importantly, once on the other side, you will have no choice but to retrace your steps. You can not just continue over to the Arizona-side parking and cross back over Hoover Dam. That road is no longer a thru road.

So, once you've taken the 1/2 mile to the bridge, then the 1/3 of a mile over the bridge, then retraced your steps, you've added 1 2/3 of a mile to your hike, which is supposed to be a bit under four miles from the trailhead to the dam. Cross the dam and back, and you've added about 1/2 mile. So now, what was supposed to be a four-mile trip to the dam becomes, in actuality, about 10 miles, roundtrip, especially if you add the extra 1/4 mile or so roundtrip from the Visitor Center to the trailhead. On the other hand, I took the "shortcut" on the way to the dam.
Heh. No wonder I was so tired by the time I got back!

I was actually pretty tired by the time I got there, so ate some overpriced concessionaire food. $14 for a small chicken wrap and a small soda. I mean SMALL soda. Tasted good, though.
Incidentally, had you driven to the dam, parking is $10 in the structure on the NV side of the dam, and, I believe, on the surface lot on the AZ side nearest the dam. I think there are free parking lots further away on the AZ side, if you want to save some money.

There's a dam-specific visitor center on the NV side. I did not take the time to visit that place on this trip. Too tired, and been there before.
By the way, although your hike is entirely within Lake Meade National Recreation Area, if you parked at the Alan Bible Visitor Center or the Historic Railroad trail parking area, you did not need to pay an entry fee. So there's some additional money you get to keep in your pocket.
Because I crossed both the dam and the bridge, I got some pretty out-standing views of both.

You can't walk under the bridge, but, on the NV side of the Colorado River, below the dam, you can get pretty close.
From the bridge, cables get in your view of the dam, unfortu-nately. Still, it's a pretty amazing view. The Dam is over 700 feet above the river on the backside, while the bridge is about 900 feet above the river. The bridge is also advertised as being about 1500 feet south of the dam, which is interesting, because it's about 1300 feet long. So the bridge is almost as long as it is distant from the dam. Yes, it's an engineering marvel.
Forgot to mention that, at the dam, in addition to a cafe and a visitor center, there's also a gift shop and a lot of flush restrooms. There were also vault toilets at the parking area near the start of the O'Callaghan - Tillman Memorial Bridge parking area, and a porta-potty near the small parking/waiting area for where the Historic Railroad trail spurs off to the bridge. That's in addition to the locked toilet near the picnic area, about 1/2 mile back from the turnoff, and the pit toilet at the other end of the trail, and flush toilets in the Alan Bible Visitor Center.
Also failed to mention that you've got some nice views of Lake Meade along the way. You'll also get a really dramatic view, both at the dam and along the way, of how far down the water in Lake Mead has dropped. It's now a LONG way down from the UPSTREAM side of the dam to the water, too!

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