Silent Echo Bay
Lake Mead’s receding waters sank this once-popular resort.
BY KLAUS ALTEMUELLER
During its heyday, Echo Bay—located on the Overton Arm of Lake Mead—supported a hotel, a huge marina, a convenience store, and plenty of visitors. Once the playground of some rather colorful types, it is not quite the attraction it once was, although there is still plenty to see and do in this remarkable area.
The sun and surf drew many people to the bay located just 50 miles from Las Vegas. In 1962, a 54-room hotel was built, which sported a large conference room, a restaurant called the Tail ‘o the Whale, and a lively bar. The rooms had either a patio or a balcony, many overlooking the water that lapped right up to the building. A set of stairs and a ramp led into the lake from the corner of the hotel, and swimming was a favorite pastime for many of the guests. The marina could hold 300 boats and was often filled to capacity with a long waiting list for available boat slips. The hotel also had a landing strip for private planes. Pilots could fly in, call the hotel, and have a van sent to pick up passengers.
FAMOUS VISITORS AND FLEETING WATERS
During the filming of the 1970 movie “The Ballad of Cable Hogue”—filmed at Valley of Fire State Park—it was not uncommon to see director Sam Peckinpah or stars Jason Robards and Stella Stevens in the restaurant and bar. According to a former employee, Peckinpah once approached Stevens—a vegan and quite the spitfire—at her table in the restaurant with a great big lit cigar. She told the director to put it out or she would quit the movie. He put it out.
Ann-Margret was also a regular, having apparently discovered Echo Bay while filming “Viva Las Vegas.” It’s rumored that Pierre Omydar named his auction website eBay after Nevada’s Echo Bay. His consulting firm was named Echo Bay Technology Group, and many reports claim the auction site was to be named Echo Bay until Omydar discovered the domain name was taken, so he shortened it to eBay. Why he chose the name Echo Bay for his consulting company is unclear.
Unfortunately, as the water of Lake Mead receded, so did the fortunes of Echo Bay. In late 2010, the company that ran the hotel canceled all remaining reservations and closed up shop. The lingering drought made conditions at the marina less than desirable and led to a decline in visitors. The National Park Service attempted to find another company to take over the hotel and restaurant, but not a single application was submitted. After 44 years, the Echo Bay hotel shuttered for good.
The marina stayed in business for another three years before it too closed. The boat ramp was twice extended as it tried to follow the water, but today it ends in a dry wash. Some 235 feet up the hillside is a sign that once was at water level—it reads “NO WAKE.”
Despite the limited commercial services, there is still plenty to do and good reason to stay at Echo Bay. It is far less crowded than other locations at Lake Mead and is within a short drive to several locations. Valley of Fire State Park is a short 15 miles down the road, while Overton and the Lost City Museum are just 20 miles away. Overton has a full-service grocery and fast-food options. Boulder City, Hoover Dam, and Gold Butte National Monument are all within an hour’s drive.
There is a new boat ramp further down a graded gravel road about 2 miles from the main parking lot, and all the water sports are available. Out past the ramp is a finger of land with coves and beaches where people fish for Striped and Largemouth Bass.
There are still two nice campgrounds with around 55 RV sites available with full hookups and another 37 campsites available for tents and RVs without hookups. Also available are fuel and air and a small store with limited merchandise. There are some picnic tables and running water bathrooms just above the old boat ramp behind the hotel. If you do camp here, it is suggested to not leave canopies out when not immediately present: there can be strong wind gusts without much warning.
SPEND A DAY
The hotel is now boarded up and vacant, but it is still fascinating to photograph and admire. One can look down the boat launch ramp and see where the water once was. The airstrip is no longer monitored, but it still sees about one plane a week. High-powered cars sometimes use the strip as a playground.
The road into Echo Bay is not maintained and is long and winding with very low speed limits. This results in a great road for walking or bicycle riding. There are no improvements or water available past the main parking lot, and cell coverage is very spotty to nonexistent. The best time to visit is in the spring or fall before the temperatures run in the triple digits.
Whether for a day of crowd-free recreation or to explore the ruins from the past, Echo Bay provides ample opportunity for the perfect adventure in southern Nevada.