Thomas Nevada, A - Sometimes - Underwater Ghost Town
St. Thomas Nevada is unique
among ghost towns, it is flooded most of the time. St. Thomas is a
victim of progress in the form of Hoover Dam and its reservoir,
This small western town was founded in 1865 by Mormon settlers. It
is located at what was once a prime farming location, the
confluence of the Muddy and Virgin Rivers. The Muddy River,
because it is fed by artesian springs, is a very reliable source
The Anasazi and the Basketmaker people
made their home in this immediate area for millennia. The Anasazi
culture in particular was known for growing corn or maize, beans
and other crops in this same area as the Lost City is located
across the river from here.
Brigham Young sent settlers across the west to colonize such
places as St Thomas and the Moapa Valley in hopes of establishing
their vision of the west.
St Thomas had limited success as a farming settlement, however a
spur of the railroad stopped there. This made St Thomas a place
that also served the interests of miners in the region.
One can imagine what this place must have looked like around the
turn of the 20th century with its train station, miners and
prospectors, farmers and railroad people, a scene typical of the
final stages of the old west.
the town of about 500 had to be
abandoned to the rising waters of Lake Mead. Most of the people
transplanted to Overton Nevada, just up the river.
What remains now is a stark, unrealistic landscape. St. Thomas is
located in a place where the silt laden Muddy River discharges its
load onto Lake Mead.
Most of the area that looks like it was about 50 to 70 feet of
water is covered with a very fine silty loam that has developed a
thin alkali crust. In the lower areas there is a decided change in
soil types as the mixture rapidly becomes large grained sand like
particles that may have been part of a dune field.
down from St Thomas Point the air gets noticeably hotter unless it
is windy. In the distance, about 1.5 miles away you can see the
remnants of some of the towns structures poking through the brush.
If you want to visit those remains, it is best to follow along the
old shorelines towards the town until you find one of the,
surprisingly numerous trails that lead there.
The Tamarisk is amazing here. It is thick and dangerous. You must
wear long pants. There is no avoiding it. It will cut your skin
because of the sharp branch spurs on them. One of the common names
for this plant is 'Salt Cedar' or 'Salt Bush'. Salty excretions
and a salty taste are two hallmarks of this intrusion plant. The
cutting action of the spurs along the stems of this plant along
with the obligatory dose of salt makes this a special kind of
torment for those who have to cross it. If you come here, be wise,
stay on the trails, cover your skin.
As you walk toward the town from the main path, this long, perhaps
3/4 mile long 'avenue' leads to the foundations at St. Thomas. The
wide cracks in the mud create tiles of dried silt averaging about
a foot across. The crevasses between them are several inches wide
in most places. The cracks are at least 2 feet deep in most
As you walk further down this avenue you begin to see things
popping out of the blinding white, alkali laced sediment. Many of the houses were built from hand mixed, rebar reinforced
concrete. In some places all that is left is the family well. The
outlines of streets can be inferred from the tree stumps that
acted as borders.
The soil is crusted with a thin crunchy alkali layer. When you
walk on it you hear it crunch. There are plants pushing out of the
ground everywhere now. The area is very green.
photos were taken in June 2003. As of September 2004, The water
level had actually increased by about 2 feet. In June 2003 the water level was 87 feet below the
maximum level of 1229 FASL. On September 1, 2004 it was reported
to be 85 feet below maximum.*
These photos were taken at the time immediately after the water
had receded from the 'center' of town. This is evidenced by the
water filled school house foundation which was about 100 feet away
from the edge of the water. The ground was still really soft here
and it was necessary to find 'ridges' where a crust had started to
harden on the ground.
The Tamarisk is abundant here. So are sharp, pointed branches
coming out of this surface. Beware walking on this cover because
your feet will sink in it and the pointed braches will not. They
will penetrate everything except thick leather soles.
At the Lake Mead shoreline is the center of the old town. The wide
sandy beach seems to have been there in pre-flood times. What you
see are several widely dispersed buildings. The chimneys that you
see from the road are no longer the main landmark once you finally
get to St. Thomas. The hike from the lookout point is long and
very hot. It makes you think about what the people who lived here
experienced. When you finally get to the center of what was the
town you try to fill in the houses, signs, the trees, streets, all
the things that were here and are now missing.