There may be no better way to see Lake Mead than from the decks of the Desert Princess, an old-fashioned paddlewheeler that offers excursions on the lake.
The 300-passenger, 110-foot Princess, which displaces 150 tons of water, has the distinction of being the largest vessel ever to ply the waters of Lake Mead. It does so year-round, several times a day (more often in the summer).
With its three decks, twin smokestacks, rows of rear paddles and ornate design, which was influenced by the classic riverboats of the Old South, the Princess is a noticeable contrast to Lake Mead's stark but beautiful desert scenery.
While the Princess may have an old-time Mississippi riverboat look, it is actually only a few years old and is equipped with modern amenities.
A trip on the Princess is an opportunity to enjoy the full menu of Lake Mead's unique land and waterscapes. Cruises depart from the Lake Mead Cruises Landing, a 2,400-square-foot dock about 10 miles east of Boulder City.
Gliding out of its slip, the paddlewheeler rides surprisingly smoothly for such as big boat. Powered by two propellers and the array of paddles, the ship can reach a top speed of about 14 mph.
The journey heads out into the heart of the lake, one the largest manmade reservoirs in the country with 500 miles of shore. Soon, the Princess passes massive Fortification Hill, a flat mesa opposite the arena.
To the north is solitary Sentinel Island, while to the south are Big Boulder Island and Rock Island. The boat slides past both then slowly enters the mouth of Black Canyon.
Interestingly, Hoover Dam, which was originally called Boulder Dam, is not in Boulder Canyon - that's farther north - but in Black Canyon. As the sternwheeler continues up the canyon, guides point out that bighorn sheep can sometimes be seen walking along the steep cliffs.
Ahead, looms Hoover Dam. Arriving via the lake offers a different perspective on it. It's a strange feeling to be floating near the dam and thinking that on the other side of the concrete wall is a drop of more than 700 feet.
In addition to offering a pleasant, smooth ride, the Princess was designed to meet the challenges of operating in the hot Southern Nevada climate. Two decks are enclosed and temperature-controlled, while the top deck promenade is open for those wanting to get some sun.
Ninety-minute, narrated, midday sightseeing cruises are scheduled daily at noon and 2 p.m. from Nov. 1-March 31, then expand to four times a day in the summer.
The Princess also offers a Dinner/Dance Cruise for adults throughout the year. The three-hour cruise with a live band and dancing departs on Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
Rates range from $22 per person for the basic sightseeing trip ($10 for children) to $58 per person for the Dinner/Dance Cruise. For more information, call (702) 293-6180 or go to www.lakemeadcruises.com.
n Richard Moreno is the author of "Backyard Travels in Northern Nevada" and "The Roadside History of Nevada."