Wednesday, April 20, 2016

It's a Dam Good Story

Access to the water of Lake Mead is limited. With the water down 25%, original roads no longer "go there". At the nearby marina, the roads, boat ramp and docks have all been extended. 

Sunday we wander down to check out the boats and the little waterside bar and eatery. As soon as we get close we pick up that "harbor" smell. I don't know why I've always liked it. 

A large island in the bay now that the water is so far down
Along the dock we see dozens of birds and lots of splashing. Unfortunately this is the result of people tossing popcorn and other junk in the water. I don't know why it's allowed, it's disgusting.

Ducks, carp and striped bass
A couple places you could walk across the carp
A pretty cinnamon-topped duck shows restraint (or is already full)
More shoreline, but not accessible
The marina is completely full, only a few sailboats have been on the lake this week
We don't spend much time here, opting for our more distant view from home.

We're hoping for a small crowd on Monday to see the Hoover Dam. Arriving around 11 AM there are a LOT of people, but there's only a couple cars ahead of us at the parking lot, and no line to get tour tickets. There's enough to see that everyone is pretty spread out all day, feeling less crowded than it could. I'm still amazed at the "draw" of the place. License plates from multiple states, languages from multiple countries - it's a big deal.

Dams are a controversial topic, and clearly the designers of everything you see here are well aware of this. I'm not a fan, but I also don't have an alternative for flood control or consistent and fair distribution. Still, the sales pitch, Disney-narration, this dam saved the world, tone is a bit over-the-top.

No "opinion" shared from indigenous peoples who "managed" the water for centuries
I'm here because of the history and the engineering. And that part does not disappoint. It is pretty spectacular.

The 15 minute film that starts the tour quickly answers my first question about how they dammed the water to build the dam......diversion tunnels! It is further explained in the exhibit hall.

The tunnels also figure in the final design and operation of the dam
They pack us in a large elevator, shoulder-to-shoulder, nose to neck, and plunge us 52 stories underground. Sounds horrible, it wasn't. Everyone was in good spirits, and it took less than a minute. Tessa handles her first "crunch" experience well.

Understanding how the water moves through the dam. We're in the tunnels, soon we'll be in those red squares
The red squares making electricity from water flow
with huge turbines
made of magnets weighing 4 ton a piece
The large turbine is "out" for maintenance so our getting to see it is a rare opportunity. To move it requires the use of both cranes. They are the big green things spanning the top of the room in the pic above. 

Miles of terrazo tiles were laid in this massive structure - at a price of $60,000. Today that might pay for just the tiles in this one room.
The ironic use of native designs
By the time we pile back in the elevator, Tessa has kissed every kid in our group (they were all much more interested in her than the dam stuff). She is a trooper with all the feet to dodge, and goes with the pace of the tour.

The exhibit hall is well laid out to accommodate a lot of visitors and after the first few yards we're able to take our time at each display.

A gazillion loads of cement
filled forms to create a gazillion blocks. Each block took over a week to fill. The cement would have taken 100 years to cool so they ran pipes with cold water through them. That's the stuff that I love about this.
We walk through a mock generator with signs showing the layers and interaction of each component. I wonder how "they" figured out that all of these layers would create electricity....

My question "answered" with both a timeline

and a smaller, more detailed, replica. Interesting, educational, I still don't really get it :-)
One can't deny that 3500 jobs during the Great Depression was a good thing. That the workers completed the job 2-years early is incredible (and probably bitter-sweet for them). 

The shear size of the undertaking is measured in tons of concrete, miles of cable, cases of dynamite, acre feet of water, kilowatts of power. In 2016 it still boggles the mind.

Outside we move from the how and why - to the what and wow. 

Now that I know the how, it's even more wow
We were in the Nevada generator building directly below
I can't get over the steep angle of the power line towers
With the current water level I think the height of the dam is sort of over-kill. Even at the previous "normal" level marked forever in white along the canyon, it seems much taller than needed.

On the tour we learned that in 1983 the water reached within six feet of the top, requiring the only use of the spillways on both sides. I suppose the dam height is "just right". 

Difficult to picture the water six feet from the top
15 years of drought have redefined normal
Several art pieces, memorials and the old exhibit hall are on the Nevada side. Arizona has two overlooks and parking for RVs.

Winged Figures of the Republic, the guardian angels of the site and the waters above and below the dam
Numbers as high as 213 show up in different publications, but the official number of deaths on the project is 96 - none buried in the dam (a popular myth). 
The only crew member buried in the dam site 
Looking back at Nevada
The old exhibit hall is really just a relief map with lights and an "enthusiastically" narrated history of harnessing the Colorado River. It's pretty entertaining, and worth seeing. For Bill and I, it is especially fun to see the pumping stations of the Metropolitan Water District (I lived at Iron Mountain), and the small desert towns we know so well.

Bill's home
Jodee's home (it felt bigger when I lived there)
In addition to the engineering marvel of the dam, the more recent completion of the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge and four-story parking structure are very impressive. I agree with Bill that a film on the bridge would be great. I was amazed (probably too much so) at the parking structure built right into the canyon, and around the power line towers. 

I'm just not going to think about how I drove over that in the motorhome......
Parking structure built into the canyon
and around the towers
Snuggly mirroring the canyon walls
I'm so glad we took the time and the $40 ($15 each for the tour and $10 to park) to see the dam and learn it's fascinating story. No matter which side of the dam debate you sit on, the Hoover Dam is a big (really big) piece of our history in the southwest. 

Tuesday morning we move to Laughlin where we could see triple digits for the first time since......I think it was June 8, the day before we launched :-)


  1. looks like you had a 'dam fine day'!!

  2. We thought Hoover Dam absolutely amazing. It was huge and quite an undertaking. We loved our visit.

    I also love the smell of the marinas. That might have something to do with growing up on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. All things water seem to attract me. Our water levels last year were so low in areas that boats couldn't launch. However, after the winter rains the water level is now good. However, I wonder if we will suffer again later in the summer and if the water level is really as good now as it should be.

    1. Fingers crossed for continued high water levels up there. They were way down when we were there last summer. Still such a beautiful place, we love it there.

  3. Feats of engineering are always amazing no matter the subject!

    Triple digits sounds awful. Thank goodness for full hookups!

    1. Amen to that! Our ACs are getting a work out already :-(

  4. Great post on the dam, Jodee:) Glad to hear Tessa handled it like a trooper:) It is quite a place. I didn't make the tour below when we first visited many years ago on a motorcycle trip. I was still struggling with claustrophobia. But John took the tour and really enjoyed it. Since then we have hiked there(Jessica and I) and biked the 10 mile round trip on the Heritage Trail, just to take in the views. Hard to believe the water level was ever that high. Wonder if we'll ever see the six feet from the top again!?

    Our trip there years ago was in mid June and the temps hit 123. It was so hot coming out of the dam on the motorcycle that JOhn's iPod stopped working. We didn't realize that it was the heat til later. As we made the drive towards Kingman, we had to stop because the heat made me sick. Of course, there wasn't a tree or rock for a pinch of shade. We could hardly wait to get to Kingman and hit the first air conditioned place we found. We then went to K-Mart and bought bathing suits and sat in the pool at the motel. Motorcycles and that kind of heat don't mix!! A trip we still mention everytime we see Kingman on a map.

    Sounds like you and Bill had a wonderful experience. Hope you don't melt with the heat in Laughlin:)

    1. Oh man we grew up in that kind of heat and still hate it. In Needles one time the thermometer in my Explorer flat-lined. I found out later it stops at 130 degrees! We have friends who ride motorcycles to the reunion each year, I'm hoping it's much cooler tomorrow!!

  5. I really like the Art Deco at Hoover Dam but don't do tours inside because the vibrations send me wacky. I'm already wacky enough. Looks like it was interesting though. Try not to bake in Laughlin. I'm headed back to winter at the NR tomorrow.

    1. Yes, the statues and star chart and buildings are very cool - remind me of some of the older buildings on Hollywood Blvd :-) Would be nice to have a bit more Spring in both places!

  6. This is such a great post on the history of the dam -- and entertaining, too! Thanks for taking me on the tour, because I'm not sure I could do the 52-story plunge down in the elevator. (Are there stairs I could walk down? :-)) The terrazzo floor is gorgeous -- but as you said, an ironic choice. Tessa is such a little trooper! She apparently can go anywhere with no problems at all.

    1. There was almost no feeling of movement in that elevator - I don't know how they did it. That silly dog really can go anywhere - and loves all the attention she gets :-)