Eleven years into my Las Vegas residency, and I only have one memory of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area—a beautiful spring day in 2004 when I hiked while my six-month-old son slept in a baby carrier strapped to my back. Nine years and numerous ‘ring-around-the-lake’ comments later, I’m reminded that Lake Mead is a force on the national parks scene.
The National Park Service recently ranked our 1.5 million-acre recreational area number five for visitation on its list of “Top 10 National Parks.” The park drew 6.3 million visitors in 2012 (not including sightseers at the Hoover Dam), beating out even the Grand Canyon. Not bad for a place whose name seems most often to come up in discussions of its disappearing water.
“That’s what’s so pleasing to us,” says Lake Mead NRA spokeswoman Christie Vanover. “Although people do see that ring showing lowering water levels, there’s still so much to do out there.”
The park is still well off its mid-1990s visitation peak of 9.8 million. Nonetheless, it has held steady as a popular attraction—it’s been on the Park Service’s top 10 list since 1979, the first year it was published. Lake Mead reached a peak of third place in the early 90s and only dropped as low as ninth in 1981.
I’ll do my part to keep those numbers up. Only this time, the kid’s carrying his little sister.