Article by John Tapley : images from Dive Shack USA
The southwestern United States has had a longstanding relationship with adventure: the rugged tales of the Wild West; Vegas’s shiny, but often seedy history; and America’s favorite highway, Route 66, with its myriad attractions and roadside oddities. This legacy carries into the region’s waterways, and to this day, many treasures and experiences still lie in wait beneath the waters. Lake Mohave, bordering the tip of southeastern Nevada and western Arizona, is a unique place that inhabits this thrilling spirit.
Located south of Lake Mead and Hoover Dam, Lake Mohave is connected to these waterways through the famous Colorado River, making it a good destination for vacationers interested in southwestern diving; and at over 28,000 acres of water, there’s plenty to enjoy. Lake Mohave is also part of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, which is managed by the National Parks Service (NPS) and is considered one of the U.S.’s most diverse national recreation areas: with a wide assortment of activities for scuba divers, campers, and nature lovers of all stripes. While the lake may be overshadowed by Lake Mead’s notoriety, a closer inspection unveils hidden treasures and destinations designed with divers in mind.
We spoke with Jerry Portwood, owner of Dive Shack USA in Bullhead City, Arizona–about an hour-and-a- half drive from Lake Mohave – for his perspective on diving this majestic lake from his side of the border. A veteran in scuba diving, Jerry has been instrumental in sharing Lake Mohave with a wide audience, and he has installed fixtures and features for divers in training: establishing a dive park in the lake’s southern area.
Founded in 1987, Dive Shack USA’s mission is to provide better opportunities for scuba education, and includes a retail store. The center regularly hosts scuba trips to adventures abroad in areas such as the Caribbean, and smaller more personalized six-pack trips to local destinations. In addition to these services, Dive Shack USA also takes part in local waterway clean up events, such as the River Regatta in August: recovering lost and discarded items.
Lake Mohave’s Treasures
John Tapley (JT): What kinds of freshwater life do you have in Lake Mohave?
Jerry Portwood (JP): Lake Mohave has a large variety of freshwater species like abundant large and smallmouth bass, several species of carp, perch, bluegill, three species of catfish, crawdads, and of course, snapping turtles.
JT: Do you ever see those legendary 50-foot catfish we hear about?
JP: I won’t say they’re not out there! We’ve seen them in the 25 to 60-pound range on more than one occasion, but typically we’ll see them in the five to 15-pound range. The largest we’ve ever seen came out while diving 10 years ago… a fisherman in a small boat caught one as we were doing classes, and it weighed about 48-pounds!
JT: What are some other activities scuba divers can enjoy when visiting Lake Mohave?
JP: We’ve got picnicking, camping, rod and reel fishing, and spearfishing for carp; boating, jet skiing, wave running. We’ve got Oakland, which is an old silver and gold mining town from back in the late 1800s. They have staged cowboy shootouts in the streets, and burros and donkeys roaming free on a daily basis. There’s also old Route 66, and some major casinos with big names that perform on the Colorado River.
JT: What is the appeal of Lake Mohave for scuba divers? What kind of treasures can they find?
JP: In my opinion, Lake Mohave is probably the best freshwater lake in the western United States – encompassing California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico. We get a lot of influx this time of year because the water is colder and the visibility is exceptional: right now the water is running about 59 degrees and we’re getting in the vicinity of 50 to 60 feet of horizontal visibility: if you’re in an open area or are one of the first divers in the water in the morning. The lake is at sea-level diving: the maximum surface elevation runs about 647 to 650 feet, and the average depth is probably no more than 75 or 80 – but we have areas that are 100 to 140 when the water levels are up.
Divers find a lot of treasure here: boat anchors, rods and reels with fish attached occasionally, GoPro cameras, and jewelry: everything from costume jewelry to 18 karat gold. Most people can’t fathom the amount of stuff that gets lost in this waterway.
JT: What’s the most interesting object you’ve recovered from Lake Mohave?
JP: I haven’t found it yet, but if you can imagine it – other than choo- choo train – I believe I’ve found it in the local Lake Mohave area. Over the years, [we’ve found] a dozen stolen boats from joyriders who would pull the plug or chomp a hole in the bottom to sink them.
JT: What about the kitchen sink?
JP: Yeah! A houseboat sank and we brought some stuff in so I can claim kitchen sink.
JT: That’s a wild amount of treasure. What about dive sites on Lake Mohave?
JP: There’s a massive influx of other dive stores and instructors, and we help facilitate them so they can do their instruction in all levels: open water through instructor. It’s because of a small dive park that myself and local search and rescue divers – police and fire departments – put together. And that site is called Cabinsite Point.
JT: What are some key features at Cabinsite Point?
JP: It’s a small dive park with a 40- foot school bus, a van, Scuba Steve (our resident plastic skeleton), a peak buoyancy course, and an 18-foot boat and a 35-foot boat that are sunk
for dive activities. Cabinsite Point is specifically broken into three separate coves: you drive up to Cabinsite Point; southwest is Beaver Cove, and to the right of that is Jack Rabbit Cove.
Wreck Alley, Mineshaft, and Gasoline Alley
JT: What are some other scuba diving sites in Lake Mohave?
JP: We have other things in the lake. For advanced level, we have a mineshaft dive 30 yards offshore. Intermediate to advanced, a nice cove with four boats sunk from 60 to about 93 feet – but these are boat dives only. The four boats area – we call it Dive Shack’s Lake Mohave Wreck Alley – is for motorized boats only, about seven miles up the lake, and has a sheer wall.
I’ve known about the mineshaft since 1977 or 78 due to involvement with the National Parks Service. It’s not publicly promoted because of safety concerns. It’s approximately 85 feet from the surface to the opening, then another 80 to 90 feet to the bottom of the shaft: an excessively deep dive. We used to dive it for advanced level dives because it was there, but we don’t promote it because it is starting to deteriorate considerably. We do get some tech divers who come in, though.
We have another dive where we go for treasure – and when I say treasure, I’m talking about GoPros, jewelry, watches, anchors, and everything in between. At Gasoline Alley, party boaters go and jump off a cliff from about 60 feet in the air; and they lose a lot of stuff. There’s a lot of wind-blown holes in the side of the mountain as it goes into the water, and there’s a lot of catfish in there.
JT: You have treasure diving; dive sites for scuba beginners and veterans; fishing and camping. Do you have any advice for divers interested in visiting Lake Mohave? What should they know before planning a trip?
JP: A dive flag is required here because it’s a National Park; and they’re very good at writing expensive tickets. It’s a desert environment, and in the summertime, air
temperatures can exceed 130 degrees; the beach area can push over 150. It’s easy to get dehydrated.
Bordering the glitz and glamour of eastern Nevada and the rugged old west embodied in Arizona, Lake Mohave offers a solid assortment of sites for scuba exploring looking to delve into desert diving. While it may not measure up to its northern cousin,
Lake Mead, in scale or recognition, its opportunities are bountiful and its relative seclusion gives visitors a chance to unwind under the warm sun – and maybe catch a kitchen sink.