St Thomas Ghost Town

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St. 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, Lake Mead.

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 of water.

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.
In 1938 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.
Walking 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 places.
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.
These 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.
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