St. Thomas, Nevada (Summary Page)

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This page last updated on 04/17/2018
Destination: St. Thomas, Nevada.
Distance from Point of Origin: 82 miles.
Estimated (One Way) Travel Time: 1-1/2 hours.
Directions: St. Thomas is located approximately 82 miles NE of Las Vegas. From the Stratosphere Casino head northeast on Las Vegas Blvd about 3 miles and turn right to merge onto US-93/95. Go 12.5 miles and Merge onto NV-564 E/W Lake Mead Pkwy via Exit 61B. Heading east on NV-564 (Lake Mead Blvd) go over the mountains (passing between Frenchman Mountain to the south and Sunrise Mountain to the north) to the park entrance station. Pay the entrance fee ($5 per car or an annual pass), and proceed to the T-intersection with Northshore Road (NV Rt 167) and Lakeshore Road (NV Rt 166). Bear left and drive north on Northshore Road (NV 167) towards Overton, NV. Turn right opposite the Valley of Fire Road onto Old St. Thomas Road and travel 3.3 miles to the parking area and trailhead at the end.

General Description: St. Thomas, Nevada, is a ghost town in Clark County, Nevada, in Mopa Valley near where the Muddy River flows into the Colorado River. St. Thomas was purchased by the US Federal Government and was finally abandoned as the waters of Lake Mead submerged the town. It is now located within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

History of St. Thomas: Led by Thomas Smith, the town was founded by Mormon settlers in 1865 as an outpost to transport goods from California to Utah. By the end of 1866, church records show that 45 families were living here growing cotton and other crops near the confluence of the Muddy and Virgin rivers. Because the Muddy River is fed by artesian springs, it was a very reliable source of water. Going back even further, the Anasazi culture and its antecedent, the Basketmaker Culture made their home in this immediate area for neary a thousand years. The Anasazi culture in particular was known for growing corn or maize, beans and other crops in this same area. The largest complex of dwellings, called Pueblo Grande de Nevada or Lost City, was also flooded. In the 1930s, archaeologists and Civilian Conservation Corps crews rescued hundreds of artifacts that are now on display at the Lost City Museum. Referring to the Mormon and later settlements, one historian has noted that "grass­hoppers plagued the fields" and settlers died from heat and mosquito-borne diseases. Summers were long and brutal in the lower Moapa Valley. Verna Hellerand, a one time resident, has been quoted as saying that the family used to sleep outside for "months and months of the year" and that, "It was so unbelievably hot, I remember that the only way we could cool off was to get into (an irrigation) ditch."

In addition to the advent of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869 which provided a more comfortable and efficient method to transport people and goods, it was a boundary dispute that caused the Mormons to leave in 1871. After Nevada won a boundary dispute with Utah and Arizona, the Nevada government demanded five years worth of back taxes, due in gold coins, causing most to leave. However, as time moved on, new Mormon settlers drifted back into the Moapa Valley in 1880, and St. Thomas began to flourish with a population of nearly 500. At its peak in the early 20th century, the town and surrounding area were home to about 2,000 people. The Union Pacific railroad built a branch down the valley and used St Thomas as a terminus, between 1910 and 1918 it was a busy frontier town. It was at this time that the Arrowhead Trail, the first automobile road connecting Los Angeles and Salt Lake City was built through the Valley of Fire to St Thomas, which caused the tourist business to grow for the Gentry Hotel. Then during the First World War the price of copper rose and with thousands of head of stock being freighted from St Thomas to Grand Gulch mine things really got lively.  The town had no police, jail or town government, but it did have a 14-room hotel, several stores and a soda fountain. The two-story brick schoolhouse doubled as the Mormon church and community center. Though the growing of cotton was the towns primary income in its early days, the farmers there grew a wide variety of crops, including peaches, melons, grapes, figs, wheat, barley, corn, almonds and asparagus.

Unfortunately, the economic boon from tourism was short-lived. In the early 1920s, the bridge across Virgin River burned, and the road was moved to a more northern route across Mormon Mesa. A 1930 census put the population of St. Thomas at 274 people. The construction of Hoover Dam and the resulting rise in the waters of the Colorado River forced the abandonment of the town in 1938. Before the water got there, most of the buildings were knocked down, dismantled or moved. The orchards and many of the large shade trees were cut down so they wouldn't snag boats from the bottom of the lake. Over the years the town has been under 50-70 feet of water. Fast-forward 73 years to today, and a 9 year drought has provided an opportunity to explore a ghost town. Foundations, walls, and grated cisterns dot the site, along with numerous alkali-crusted trails branching in all directions. The ruins of St. Thomas are protected by the National Park Service as a historic site. The cemetery was relocated to Overton, Nevada where there is a St. Thomas interpretive center with a staff archaeologist doing on-going research into the history and settlement of the Muddy River.
Special Attraction or Points of Interest: Being able to walk among the exposed ruins of Nevada’s own ‘Atlantis’  - a ghost town that was underwater over for over 60 years, makes for a fascinating historical journey.
Primary Activity: Photography.
Secondary Activities: Hiking.

Elevation: 1,204 Feet
Best Time To Visit: Obviously, the lower the lake level, the more there is to see. 
Difficulty: It is a 2.5 to 3 mile, out and back, moderate hike to the shoreline. Do not wander too far off the trail or you may get stuck in the mucky sediment that used to be underwater. Dress appropriately for walking in mud, sand and water.
Facilities: There is a vault toilet.
Estimated Round-trip Time: Minimum of five hours.
More Info On St. Thomas: and
St Thomas Topo Map 2

01/16/2014 Trip Notes: This was my third visit to this ghost town with the rock-hounds from Henderson’s Heritage Park Senior Facility. On this visit I was armed with a better map showing the layout for many of the towns more prominent buildings. As a result I was better able to identify more of the exposed foundation remains. Though it is very difficult to be 100% sure about the following foundation/building identifications - I have made them by judging their relationship on the map to various foundations that I am sure of. Click here for pictures and info on today’s visit … St. Thomas NV - Trip Notes for 01/16/2014.

04/05/2012 Trip Notes: This was my second visit to this town in four months. This three-mile hike provides the perfect opportunity to stroll walk back in time and use your imagination to envision what life was like before the waters of Lake Mead covered this small farming and railroad community; of days when schoolboys climbed the fruit trees and its fields were filled with orchards and grains. Though I had been  hopeful that I would be able to capture some budding plants and flowers, it was still too early in the spring. I did however, locate a few major foundations that I had missed on my previous visit here. One for the Gentry Hotel and one for the Gentry residence. Even though I didn't capture a lot of new pictures, it was still an enjoyable day.

St Thomas Street Map
(Fig. 01)
I obtained the hand-drawn map (Fig. 01) from the Lost City Museum. It was the first map I have been able to find that showed a layout of the town with identification of some of the various buildings and residences. The five that are hi-lighted in yellow are detailed below. (click on the map to enlarge and then use your browsers back button to return to this page)

The Gentry Hotel: The burgeoning town of St Thomas gained attention in the 1910s when Arrowhead Trail, the first automobile road between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, traversed through the Valley of Fire and stopped in St. Thomas. Tourists staying at the Gentry Hotel (top left below) also supported several other businesses in town including a garage (next door to the hotel), café, ice cream parlor and a grocery store. About the same time, the Union Pacific railroad built a branch down the valley and used St Thomas as a terminus, between 1910 and 1918 it was a busy frontier town. During the First World War the price of copper rose and with thousands of head of stock being freighted from St Thomas to Grand Gulch mine things really got lively. Unfortunately, the economic boon from tourism was short-lived. In the early 1920s, the bridge across Virgin River burned, and the road was moved to a more northern route across Mormon Mesa.

The picture in the upper right of the polyptych below (Fig. 02) shows the foundation of the window bay at the front of the hotel, as well as a scattering of some of the exteriors’ remaining bricks. The bottom pictures show some exposed plumbing and what appears to be a cistern at the rear of the building. Today, hikers tend to group found artifacts (bottom right) reminiscent of the time along foundations walls or sections of concrete.
St. Thomas Gentry Hotel.
(Fig. 02)

Home of Sam Gentry: The remains of Sam Gentry’s house is one of the largest single family homes to be found on the site. From what I can gather, he was the son of Harry Gentry. It is located directly across the street from the Gentry Hotel, which his father built. Just down the street from the hotel are the remains of the Harry Gentry General Merchandise store.
St Thomas Gentry Home

Below are a few “snaps” of today’s hikers from Henderson’s Heritage Park Senior Facility, mixed in with a couple flowers (a purple Phacelia on the bottom), a Western Whiptail Lizard and what was a rather grose dead cow.  We had no idea where he would have come from or how he might have died. As we were hiking towards this area, we noticed 4-5 turkey vultures flying overhead that took of for parts unknown as soon as we arrived. (Click on any picture to enlarge - then use your browser's back button to return to this page)
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After leaving St. Thomas, we headed to north to Overton, Nevada for a visit to the Lost City Museum to learn more about the history and culture of this area. Click here to view pictures and obtain more information on the museum ... Lost City Museum.

12/15/2011 Trip Notes: This was one of the more interesting places we visited all year. Out of curiosity I decided to do some additional research on the town's history so as to add more meaning to the pictures that I captured on today's hike. As previously noted, the town was abandoned in 1938 as the rise in waters from the completion of the Boulder Dam (now Hoover) began to reach the small town. The first two pictures below, courtesy of the UNLV Libraries Digital Collection,  show one of the last vehicles to leave the area and the town being overtaken by water. The next picture is an aerial view of the town as the ever rising waters began to encroach it.
St Thomas Car St Thomas Flood
St Thomas Aerial View
Today, due to the receding waters of an eight year drought, many of the towns' remaining buildling foundation are visible. Starting from the trailhead (see above), it's about 40 down to the valley floor. Once you reach the base of the valley, it's approximately a half mile before you reach the first exposed foundation.
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St Thomas HotelThe Schoolhouse: As none of the building remains that we found were identified, I began searching the Internet for pictures that might help, which proved to be a very difficult task. Probably the largest foundation has many visitors incorrectly guessing that it might be the Gentry Hotel (see insert), however it is the old schoolhouse, which also doubled as the town meeting hall and the Mormon Church. The top picture below is of the ‘rear’ of the school, while the bottom two are of its front entrance.
St Thomas School Polyptych

E-P1090336Home of Wally Frenner & Lizzie Gibson: These photos below appear to be just one of the homes of a local resident. Notice the (grated over) well or cistern at the rear of the property. Just about every ruin that we encountered had one of these located near the rear of the property and were fully lined (see insert). Some had a trough located right next to it. presumably, that could be filled to allow horses and farm animals to drink from it.  Notice the wood ‘framing’ in the window of the right-hand picture (click to enlarge).
st Thomas Home

Ice Cream Parlor: I wish that I had taken a few more pictures of these remains. There were actually two of these pieces (bottom left) lying side-by-side, with a doorway space in between them. We thought that they had fallen forward, meaning the arch would have been at the top. From the picture on right, it appears that they actually fell backward toward the rear of the building. This right-hand picture, courtesy of the UNLV Libraries Digital Collection, is of Lorraine Thomas and her father standing in front of the shell of a building, probably Hannig's Ice Cream Parlor. Notice that the cement  ‘apron’ and path leading up to the building is the same in both photos.
St Thomas Ice Cream Parlor Polyptych

Below are eight shots captured at various points along the trail that cover a wide variety of subjects. Numbered 1-8, left to right they are:
(1) An irrigation well in the middle of a field. (2) One of dozens of mountain lion tracks that we encountered along the trail.
(3) & (4) Two pictures showing construction detail of some foundation work. Some of the structures appear to have been made by pouring concrete into some kind of molds. In addition to having 12-inch thick walls, many of the individual home structures were half buried in an effort to keep the inside of the building relatively cool.
(5) Remains of a tree trunk. Their are many tree stumps and fence posts that provide evidence of street and  curb boundaries. (6) A picture of the dried out river bed of the "Muddy River".
(7) & (8) A couple of miscellaneous shots of an (unknown) plant and a fire 'scorched' tree trunk.
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In the picture above, the Tamarisk in the foreground has been cut down to expose the foundation to view, while the Tamarisk in the rear has been allowed to continue its growth. The Tamarisk in this valley plain is amazing. It’s thick, dangerous, and everywhere. You must wear long pants. There is no avoiding it. It will cut your skin because of the sharp branch spurs on them. 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.

Tamarisk: The genus Tamarix (tamarisk, salt cedar) is composed of about 50-60 species of flowering plants in the family Tamaricaceae. The deciduous tamarisks growing here are shrubs or trees that form dense thickets growing from 3 feet to more than 30 feet in height. These deciduous trees generally establish themselves in disturbed and undisturbed streams, waterways, bottom lands, banks and drainage washes of natural or artificial water bodies, moist rangelands and pastures, and other areas where seedlings can be exposed to extended periods of saturated soil for establishment. Tamarisks are characterized by slender branches and grey-green foliage. The bark of young branches is smooth and reddish-brown. As the plants age, the bark becomes bluish-purple, ridged and furrowed. They are often encrusted with salt secretions. As a species, Tamarix are fire-adapted, and have long tap roots that allow them to intercept deep water tables and exploit natural water resources and can tolerate very alkali conditions. (They may have been planted around structures here to ‘suck up’ ground water and help keep homes dry.)

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Though some are duplicates of those shown on this page, the slideshow above contains 43 pictures that were taken at St Thomas, Nevada.