Lake Mead Shows Its Spirit

St. Thomas, Nevada

The little drowned town is showing its bones. Sunbleached stairwells leading to nothing, a school foundation without the school… What happened here?

Early Mormon settlers, thinking they were in Utah, farmed the St. Thomas area, a rich land watered by the Muddy River, which flowed into the Virgin River near its confluence to the Colorado River. But when the State of Nevada came asking for back taxes, the settlers burned their homes and went back to Salt Lake City.

Then, sometime around 1880, new settlers discovered the fertile land, and payed their taxes. They built a school, a post office, a church, and a lovely place called The Gentry Hotel where folks who drove some of the first automobiles could take a load off. Of course, there was no electricity or indoor plumbing anywhere in the town, but for the humble population, it was home. Until…

President Calvin Coolidge and the Hoover Dam

Around 1900, the farmers built canals to divert the Colorado River, but the mighty Colorado broke through the canals to form the Salton Sea. The US Bureau of Reclamation stepped in to control the river, and in 1928, the Boulder Canyon Project was signed by President Coolidge. Behind the newly built Dam, the river swelled its banks and eventually became Lake Mead. Sadly, in the basin was the little town of St. Thomas. Drowned, but not forgotten. Neither are the first inhabitants, and I am not talking about Mormons.

Lost City

Basketmaker people settled the land sometime around the year 300. The Anasazi continued to live there until the 12th Century. But archaeologists believe the site was first inhabited as early as 8,000 BC!

After the construction of the Boulder (Hoover) Dam, a portion of the Pueblo Grande de Nevada was submerged. However, long before that occurred, Jedediah Strong Smith, who along with Robert Stuart discovered the South Pass—the main route pioneers used to travel to Oregon—Jedediah found prehistoric artifacts in what is now Lake Mead. And just as the canals broke to form a sea, I feel an urge to overflow: Mr. Smith’s story is a thread that leads to an exciting history, replete with a resplendent dinner given in his honor at Mission San Gabriel, the setting planned by Father Sánchez in 1826, and an unsavory welcome by the priests of Mission San José later that same year. But I digress…

Of course there were archeologists, especially Mark Raymond Harrington. His story is easily as interesting as the above mentioned Mr. Smith. For example, it has been said that Mr. Harrington searched the ancient Pueblo ruins until water began lapping at his boots. (He was a prolific author—look him up!) In 1935, the National Park Service built The Lost City Museum in Overton, NV to house the many artifacts he and other have found and to recreate an indigenous peoples town.

Modern Tragedy

August 5, 2015. A toxic spill dumped into the Animas River is devastating for wildlife and people. The Gold King Mine, once a rich gold mine, has been closed since the 1920’s. The Environmental Protection Agency went to find the source of a leak there, but instead sent the vile sludge into the river. Navajo Nation President has issued a statement (click HERE to hear him speak in his native tongue, or HERE to read some of his comments in English). My heart goes out to them and all those affected.

It is presumed that the toxic waste will dilute before reaching Lake Mead. While that alone is good news, the fish, white tail deer, trout, and many others, are not so lucky. Water is precious—a pool from which resurrection will occur. And in the case of toxic waste, let’s hope the river is quickly healed.

∇ = Alchemical Symbol for Water

“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”   ~W.H. Auden

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