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If you’ve got a few spare hours, there are worse ways to spend them than browsing Lake Mead National Recreation Area’s Virtual Museum, a collection of photos and artifacts that the National Park Service put online last month in honor of the National Historic Preservation Act’s 49th anniversary and International Archaeology Day. Do note, though, that looking at the photos is slightly addictive. If you don’t have spare hours, you may want to stay away from

The site has the look of a well-lit exhibition; each page includes a main photo, small caption and minimal navigational links on a stark white background. It’s organized into two main sections — artifacts and historic images — each with, such as “pottery” and “structures.” Photos are high-resolution, so they can be examined in detail. For this reason, the collection could be as useful for research as it is pleasing to the eye.

Why a virtual museum? Because there’s no building to house an analog exhibition. The Park Service had already cataloged the photos and artifacts, so the agency thought it only made sense to make them available for public view.

The artifacts section is small but well-curated, featuring items such as an 1865 wood-and-string snare trap and an early 1900s liquor bottle, both from St. Thomas. Its prehistory page shows arrowheads, awl fragments, ceramic shards and other classic archaeological treasures.

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But the historic images section is what hooked us. It covers the gamut of the Lake’s periods and personalities, from a picture of the 1938 Neville expedition that shows Emery Kolb balancing a movie camera on a boat’s hull, to a 1957 shot of bathing beauties lounging poolside at the Lake Mead Lodge. One especially fun category is “objects,” which includes a series of 1970s public service advertisements illustrated by Ernie Aguilar. Beer-swigging hippies pile into boats and explode against rocks, proving that safety concerns at Lake Mead are timeless, as is this collection.

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