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Road trip: Revisiting Moapa Valley’s buried past

By ThisIsReno
Published: Last Updated on

By Chris Moran

Clues to an ancient civilization and underwater towns are not easy to come by, but you can find both in the Moapa Valley in southern Nevada, just north of Lake Mead.

From Reno, it’s a 465 mile drive, but a day on the road could be worth slaking your curiosity.

A good time to go is March 13-14, Moapa Valley Days, an event celebrating the region and its communities of Logandale and Overton. One of the highlights of Moapa Valley Days happens March 14, when the Lost City Museum celebrates its 85th anniversary as well as the 95th anniversary of the Lost City Pageant of 1925. The event will include cowboy poetry, participation from the Las Vegas Valley Model A Ford Club and a keynote address by Mark Hall-Patton — frequent guest expert on the TV show “Pawn Stars” — who will talk about the region’s underwater towns.

“It’s a fascinating history, from my standpoint,” Hall-Patton said. After the construction of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s, Lake Mead slowly filled in behind it, submerging some of the area towns. St. Thomas is the most well-known, but, Hall-Patton said, “there are a couple of other communities that went under as well.”

If you can’t make it to the events, Moapa Valley’s intriguing past can be explored at other times.

Historic Pahrump Basketry at Lost City Museum.
Historic Pahrump basketry on display at the Lost City Museum. Image: Sydney Martinez/Travel Nevada

The Lost City Museum in Overton — open daily — showcases artifacts of the prehistoric Ancestral Puebloans, a group of people that lived in what is now the American Southwest, including the Moapa Valley.

And then, sometime in 1200 CE, they all left.

“We’re not really sure where the Ancestral Puebloans went,” Mary Beth Timm, Lost City Museum director, said.

But they left behind baskets, pottery and other items. In the Moapa Valley area, those artifacts were collected in the 1930s, before the rising waters of the newly created Lake Mead flooded the prehistoric homesites. See them at the Lost City Museum, where, Timm says, “we learn about people from the past through the materials they’ve left behind.”

Other things to do in the Moapa Valley include visiting the ghost town of St. Thomas — which has resurfaced due to the lowering water levels at Lake Mead — and exploring Valley of Fire State Park.

St. Thomas is about 12 miles south of the Moapa Valley, part of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and a visit involves a moderate hike. Note that the access road to the trailhead is a 3.5-mile dirt road (the National Park Service recommends a 4-wheel-drive vehicle), and the hike itself is a 4-mile trek with an 85-foot descent that leads to the old roads of the original settlement. Temperatures in this region reach an average of 97 degrees Fahrenheit from May to September, so you may want to visit when the weather is more temperate. More details here.

Valley of Fire
Valley of Fire State Park.
Image: Sydney Martinez/Travel Nevada

Valley of Fire State Park is about a 10 mile drive southwest of the Moapa Valley. Named for its striking red sandstone formations, this popular state park has a visitors’ center; first-come, first-serve campsites; and the opportunity to view rock writings, sometimes called petroglyphs, left by the area’s inhabitants.

Upcoming events for the region include The Loop at Moapa Valley, a family-friendly bike event, on March 28. The Moapa Valley community of Logandale also holds an annual Pomegranate Arts & Crafts Festival — yes, there are some pomegranate orchards in the area — in the fall.

Lodging in Moapa Valley includes the North Shore Inn, 520 N. Moapa Valley Blvd. in Overton and the Desert Palms Court RV Park, 179 S. Jones St. in Overton, 702-343-3501.

Chris Moran

Chris Moran is a public relations specialist at the Nevada Division of Tourism (Travel Nevada).

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