BOULDER CITY, Nev. — An old abandoned speedboat pokes out of the cracked mud like a giant tombstone. His epitaph might read: Here lay the waters of Lake Mead.
The largest reservoir in the US has shrunk to a record low amid a severe drought and the demands of 40 million people in seven states that are drying up the Colorado River. The megadrought in the western US has been exacerbated by climate change. Wildfire season has gotten longer and blazes more intense, scorching temperatures have broken records and lakes are shriveling.
The receding waters of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area have revealed the skeletal remains of two people along with countless stuffed fish and what has become a graveyard of forgotten and stranded boats.
Houseboats, sailboats and speedboats have been beached, creating a surreal scene in a rugged desert landscape. A buoy that once marked a no-boat zone sits on land, not a drop of water in sight. Even a sunken World War II-era vessel that once surveyed the lake has emerged from the receding waters.
Nature did not create this calm water paradise for fishing, camping and kayaking. The mighty Colorado River that divides Nevada from Arizona once flowed under the walls of the Black Canyon until Hoover Dam was erected in 1935 for irrigation, flood control, and hydroelectric power.
The reservoir is now below 30 percent of its capacity. Its level has dropped 170 feet (52 meters) since it peaked in 1983, leaving a bright white line of mineral deposits on the brown canyon walls that looms over passing motorboats as tall as a building. of 15 floors.
Most of the boat ramps were closed, and the marina piers were moved to deeper water. A sign marking the water level in 2002 inconceivably stands over a path that slopes down to the moorings in the distance.
The drop in water level has consequences not only for cities that depend on the future source of water, but also for boaters who must navigate in shallow water and avoid islands and sandbars that lurk below the surface before emerging. .
Craig Miller was tossing around on his houseboat last month when the engine died and he floated to shore. Within days, the knee-deep water where his boat stopped was gone.
“It’s amazing how fast the water went down,” Miller said. “It was landlocked.”
He bought pumps and tried to dredge the sand around the boat to create a channel to the water, but he couldn’t get ahead of the receding waters. A trailer from shallow water, originally estimated at $4,000, was rocketed to a $20,000 salvage job when it was abandoned.
Miller spent three weeks on the stranded ship, spending much of the time submerged in the water to keep cool in the triple-digit heat. The day before park rangers told him he had to get the boat out of the sand, Dave Sparks, a social media personality known as Heavy D, who had seen a video of Miller’s plight, showed up with a team to take out the boat from shore and tow it to a marina.
Others have flocked to the dry lake bed to take selfies in the haunting scenery or against the backdrop of what looks like a colossal ring around a bathtub.
The bottom of the dry lake looks like shattered glass, the cracks expanding in the hot sun and the mud fading from brown to beige.
A small school of dead fish has been propped up on their tails and placed in a circle.
As the sun sets to the west over Las Vegas, light illuminates the translucent hollowed-out body and empty eye socket of a fish. His mouth is open as if he is trying to breathe.