Lake Mead Gives Up Its Ghosts as Drought Worsens
Tourism is up at shrinking lake in Nevada
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 30, 2015 3:36 PM CDT
Wind kicks up dust on an area that was once underwater at the Boulder Harbor boat ramp in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, near Boulder City, Nev.   (AP Photo/John Locher)
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(Newser) – The drought in the West is hurting Nevada's Lake Mead in the most obvious sense—it's shrinking fast. But that problem comes with an upside: Tourism is up as the water recedes and reveals what lies beneath, reports CBS News. The big draw is the ghost town of St. Thomas, which was submerged after the government bought the land in the 1930s to build the Hoover Dam. The town has been gradually resurfacing over the last decade, so much so that national parks officials plan to put up informational placards for hikers who can now access it on foot, reports the Los Angeles Times. Another popular site requires going under water, just not as far as before: Divers are flocking to the wreckage of a B-29 that crashed in 1948.

The plane used to lie under 260 feet of water, but "now it's less than 130 feet down, meaning more light and divers don't need as much technical training," a member of a company that leads dive tours tells NPR. The plane itself is fascinating, he adds. "Everything in there—every control that's inside of it—is in its original position." (The crew, which was on a secret mission, survived the crash.) Elsewhere on the lake, a plant used in the construction of the dam sits 50 feet out of the water—it used to draw curious divers. While the lake is now at its lowest level since it was created, that means "you have new beaches, new coves, new things you can explore," says a marina owner. All of which helps explain why spring tourism was up nearly 50% from last year and summer visits were up about 30% so far. (Last year, explorers looking for a shipwreck in another lake found a plane.)