What secrets still lurk in Lake Mead? Bodies and boats surface as water levels decline

Since a body in a barrel was found on Lake Mead’s fast receding shores, millions have wondered what else the famous Nevada reservoir might be hiding. || Screen shot/CNN

By Lane Sainty || Arizona Republic

LAKE MEAD NATIONAL RECREATION AREA — Aug. 6 seemed like just another brilliant Saturday at Lake Mead.

The crowd assembling on the shores of the reservoir had come ready for a good time. They were armed with camping chairs and coolers, sunscreen and beach umbrellas, portable grills and cobs of corn to toss onto the hot metal plate. By 9 a.m., the first beer had been cracked at Boulder Beach, on the Nevada side of the lake. 

Along the shoreline, a crooked line of trucks and SUVs deposited jet skis and kayaks onto the glimmering water. One truck backed into the shallows had a slippery slide affixed to its bed, kids hurtling down it over and over.

A handful of swimmers freestyled back and forth. Past them, boats that had managed to launch from the one ramp still open at the lake churned up the sapphire blue surface, water skiers bouncing on the wake. 

And yet.

If you considered this idyllic scene for a second longer, looked at it a little more carefully, a sense of disquiet would emerge.

You might spot the telltale signs of the megadrought that has been depleting Lake Mead for the past 22 years, sparking fears both practical and existential about the future of the American Southwest.

You would notice the thick white ring around the lake’s perimeter, a dramatic mineral tattoo showing where water once lapped, and precisely how far it had fallen. 

You would come across one of several boat wrecks on the sand, a collection of dried-out hulks that had, until very recently, been hidden underwater.

And you would see the roll call of vehicles assembled on nearby Swim Beach — the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, search and rescue divers, the National Park Service, and the Clark County Coroner’s Office — and wonder what on earth was going on.

A pair of oblivious paddle boarders gliding past the solemn gathering were instructed via megaphone to pull in elsewhere.

“I wonder if they’ve found another body,” one of them said, in hushed tones, after coming ashore further down.

The gathering of grim-faced officials was the fourth such morbid assembly since May 1.

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