Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Hoover Dam - 30+ years ago and now

I was NOT looking forward to going to Hoover Dam. I had been there many years ago. I figured since it was completed in 1936, not much had changed. Once again I was wrong. I am not going to cover the facts of the dam - there is plenty of information online. This blog is rather my reflections on a visit to the same place only 30+ years apart.

We had just graduated college and were starting our cross country "hippie" trip. It seemed like we had been in the isolated desert for hours before our first glimpse of the dam and the two towers that seemed to rise from the waters. We stopped to take the free dam tour. I remember it being very informal with only one other tourist and the guide.

Fast forward to July 2009. The line of cars was stop and go for miles before seeing the dam. Looking out the window, we could see major highway construction on a straight, wide new interstate that ran parallel to the curvy road we were traveling.

Suddenly, I think, are we lost? What the heck is that? It looks like the St. Louis Arch in the middle of nowhere.
OMG, it is the bridge for the new highway to bypass the dam. We are looking at it from high up the canyon wall and it still towers above the mountain side. That will be a tourist attraction in itself!

I point out to Jim and Jeff an engineer must have made made a mistake, the two halves do not meet in the middle. Of course, that gets them started on the torque, size of wires, wind velocity, etc. -yawn.

No longer can cars stop on the dam so people can look over. Security was tight with cars being stopped, some even searched, before being allowed to drive over the dam. But before we even get to the dam, there is a HUGE parking structure.
At the entrance was a large bronze statue of a dam worker scaling the rock. We park, take the elevator down to the smooth, flat, rock pathways that lead to the "new" Visitor Center.

There, signs say you can only take what will fit in a marked area (about 14"x14"). We enter the building and are greeted by security lines much like the airports. We have to empty pockets, put all belongings on the conveyor belt and pass through the metal detectors.
It was 116 degrees and I brought a tote bag with bottled water and my medications. Jim was carrying it for me and they told him he would have to put it back in the car. (Just my guess, but he might have been able to take it through had he not had the small pocket knife on him).
I do have to praise the security officer's knowledge of service dog laws. He asked the appropriate questions and followed correct procedures. A first!
Now we are waiting in the 'box office' lines. Tickets to tour the Dam are $30! I look at the families and feel bad that it cost so much to see a public works project. We get our tickets and move on to the Disneyland-type lines.

Taking the cue from amusement parks, they try to have interesting things to view while we snake through the rope barriers. The walls display movie posters, looking more like the local Cinemark than a visitor center. I suggest to Jim that the movies must have scenes of Hoover Dam in them and he confirms it while reading a brochure.

Yes, we are almost there, oh no, the line is divided right in front of us and we have to wait another 10 minutes for the next elevator.

Finally our elevator arrives and we cram at least 25 people into it. It is hot, people are grumpy and stinky (including me) and I am wishing for the tour of 30 years ago.

Once down to the turbine room, it looks the same; in fact, we are told they are the original turbines from 1935. The Dam is the same, only the surroundings have changed. Jeff points out it would have been more efficient if the inlet pipes had been straight instead of angled - the guys start in again on doing calculations.

We finally complete the tour (and the calculations) and are headed back to the parking lot. Most people pass a bronze plaque embedded in a rock wall. I stop to read the memorial marker for a dog that was a mascot for the dam workers. He was hit by a truck and was entombed there that same day. I found it touching that workers marked his passing and with all the new buildings it has remained his respected resting place.

I don't ever want to go back to Hoover Dam. I am sure given time, there will be a roller coaster and bungee jumping available - for the price of additional 'E' tickets. (sheesh, ask someone over fifty what an E ticket is).

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