Stewart’s Point, Lake Mead National Recreation Area
When I was trying to decide where to go this Fall as it got too cold to remain in Montana, part of the calculus was to not stray too far from Reno, where I have family to visit at Christmas. Last winter, I went south from a work project in Colorado and spent November and December in New Mexico, along the Rio Grande. A previous winter had me in southern Arizona and on the Texas coast. This time I thought I’d try to follow the Colorado river south, sticking to the Nevada side where I still have a valid 2021 fishing license.
Heading down Interstate 15, Stewart’s Point, in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area was the first opportunity to boondock on the water. Lake Mead is a federal park, and there is an entry fee to pass through, but the gate at the northern end of the park was unmanned during my visit. My “America the Beautiful” annual pass let me get in through the southern gate later on, when I stayed at Government Wash. They get $25 for a vehicle pass that lasts seven days, or $45 for an annual pass. The “America the Beautiful” pass is $80 and gets you into virtually all of the federal parks, and it’s the best deal.
On the way south out of Overton, you pass a couple of BLM areas that have lots of boondockers camped out, Poverty Flats (which looks about how it sounds) and Sand Mine Rd. Both are probably fine options if you want to remain close to town and maybe have more reliable cell coverage, but the waterside is what I was looking for.
Stewart’s Point is about 15 miles south of Overton and the turn is clearly marked. On highway 167 just past the turnoff is Blue Point Spring, a landmark with a row of four large palm trees and a trailhead parking lot. There were two trash dumpsters here for park visitors to use, and none down the road at the camping area.
Stewart’s Point Road starts off paved but turns to hard-packed dirt and gravel eight tenths of a mile in. It is 2.2 miles from the highway to the vault toilet that marks the entry to the camping area, and the road passes several homes in varying states of disrepair. The old lakeside community appears to have been declining in parallel to the water level, which is currently over 175 feet below where it was 20 years ago.
I recommend parking near the entry and scouting ahead on foot or bicycle. There are large open areas of bare gravel that don’t have a well defined route, and there are many possible routes to get to the camp spots that are nearest to the water. There are tracks where the gravel gets very soft and deep, and you could get stuck if you are reckless with your route choice.
There were A-class busses and C-class motorhomes as well as big 5th wheels all along the former waterfront. People with smaller campers and some off-road capability could follow a track down to the waterside, and I did see a guy haul a trailer down there. I chose a spot near the edge where I could always have the water in view, but there are also countless spots farther away out in the bush.
It was one of the most spectacular desert camp spots I’ve ever stayed at. The colors of the mountains on the other side of the lake were constantly changing as the sun moved across the sky, and many evenings the water was mirror flat, reflecting the mountains and sky across the entire tableau.
I spent two weeks there, working on my Africa blog posts, hiking and fishing. The closest cell tower is just out of view due north at Overton Beach, but the signal came and went with atmospheric conditions. Late at night, I could download at 20 Mbps but midday it went to dial-up speeds. So if you need reliable cell service for work, Stewart’s Point might not work for you.
I was there in late October, and it got noticeably busier on the weekends. If you were to come in on a Friday afternoon, your parking choices would be impacted. I always try to move camp mid-week to increase the options.
It was pretty quiet every night I was there. There were a few partiers with big bonfires, but they were far enough away to not be a problem. I’d picked a spot that put 100 yards between me and my neighbors, so even the closest generator was unobtrusive.
I took a couple of day rides on the KTM to explore the area. About 13 miles to the south, Echo Bay has a free dump station with freshwater, an RV park and a couple of paid campsites. There is a store that has some rudimentary supplies, and they have propane. But the day I stopped in on my way south, there was nobody on staff that could operate the propane station. There is also an abandoned hotel and restaurant, another artifact of the low water levels. The original boat ramp was long ago abandoned, and the Feds are continually extending the newer one so that the lake can maintain some of its recreational purpose.
One day I was trying to finish a blog post after the cell signal had gone away, so I rode into Overton to find service and finish the post. It was harder than I expected. I stopped at Poverty Flats, which is within sight of town, but I didn’t have enough signal to load the webpage. I ended up in a restaurant parking lot in town, using their WiFi. Overton has a decent grocery store for supplies and the standard small town stores and restaurants, as well as a museum.
A few miles north of Stewart’s Point, right near the park entry station, there’s a turnoff to the abandoned town site of St. Thomas. A former Mormon settlement, it was flooded by the rising lake waters when Hoover Dam was completed in 1935. Since the water levels in the lake have been steadily receding for 20 years, the site has been exposed for many years.
There is a walking trail around the town site with a series of sign boards that cover some of the history and include some really great period photos. I spent around two hours exploring as I find ruins of any kind very interesting. There isn’t much remaining, but it is fun to imagine what life must have been like for those hardy pioneers.
While visiting St. Thomas, you can look to the south and see a much more recent abandoned settlement. The Overton Beach area was a popular marina and campground for a long time, but again, the drought has made it useless for boaters and apparently for campers as well. The road to access it is permanently closed, leaving the marina buildings to rot.
I did a little fly fishing up and down the shore around my campsite, with not much action. I caught a couple of smallmouth bass and one catfish, and there were signs of striped bass chasing bait out in the middle of the lake, but never within casting range from the bank. There are also portions of the shore that consist of a very sharp mineral formation that reminded me of coral, and I lost a portion of a fly line to a sharp snag.
The stay limit is 15 days, but I did not see any enforcement while I was there. All the same, there were no obvious long-termers abusing the privilege.
Stewart’s Point was my favorite stop of my 2021 snowbird season so far. I next went closer to Vegas to the site known as Government Wash, which I’ll cover in the next post.