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Saturday, May 10, 2014


Hoover Dam
The Hoover Dam straddles the Nevada-Arizona border
Every couple of years Rob and I go out to Las Vegas.  The first time was way back in 1971 when we arrived after driving through Death Valley in our very hot, unair-conditioned VW beetle convertible, took a free motel room offered if we sat through a “real estate presentation,” and woke up to see what was then “The Strip” out the front window and nothing but desert out the back. 

Times and Las Vegas have certainly changed, but we haven’t.  While we are still not gamblers, we’ve succumbed to Las Vegas’ fascinating allure.  But I digress. 

This post is really about Las Vegas as a gateway to the fascinating Hoover Dam, a place that has been on our hit list but which we somehow never managed to visit—until this trip.

Hoover Dam
Take note of the years
The Hoover Dam is an American icon, famous and visited by more than seven million people a year.  It provides water to arid and semi-arid sections of our country.  Its construction enabled farming to flourish in the southwest.  It was the largest and tallest dam at the time it was built, and even today it is the largest concrete dam in the western hemisphere.  It is remarkable.  It is beautiful and graceful.  If you have the opportunity to visit, take the tour and make sure you allow enough time to walk the span and view it and the Colorado River from all angles.  You will gawk in amazement.

Hoover Dam
The dam is 726 feet high
It is 1244 feet long
At the top it is 45 feet thick
Hoover Dam
Look down from the top, and you will gasp just a bit.
If you imagine the constant sound of rushing water thundering through the canyon and being held back and released—a thunderous sound anyone who has visited Niagara Falls would recognize—don’t. The Colorado’s power is released inside this massive structure, water brought in through an intake system, and gently released after being used to send hydroelectric power out to the country. 

Hoover Dam
Does this "room" which houses the turbines look small
as you watch from above?
Hoover Dam
Here is a little bit of a close-up.  These are HUGE.
With all the “modern miracles” to which we are exposed daily through the media, it is sometimes easy to forget that real miracles do happen, and the Hoover Dam might be considered one of them.

Imagine the political upheaval.  The mighty Colorado runs through seven western states into Mexico, and each state has its own priorities and problems.  Within each state are two factions: urban and rural.  Each faction has its own priorities and problems.  Before anything can be done, the federal government has to improve and furnish funds.  There is also the conflict between money intended solely for the west without consideration of the eastern part of the country.  Political progress is snail-crawling slow.   It takes years before Herbert Hoover, well before his presidency, can negotiate the Colorado River Compact to make the dam a possibility.
Hoover Dam
Hydroelectric energy sent out to power the states.

More than 200 engineers helped design the dam that was first proposed in 1922 and approved through the Boulder Canyon Project Act in 1928.  By that time it was Herbert Hoover, president, who signed the Act into law.

Imagine the workforce problems.  The site, Black Canyon, straddling the Arizona, Nevada border, is in the middle of a desert.  Yet men and their families, ailing from the early part of the depression, heard about the job possibilities and ventured lock, stock, and barrel out to the blistering desert where there was no housing or facilities ready for them, only the hope that there was a job. Many lived in tents.  Some did not have even that.  Work did not begin until a year after word of the project went out, but the men wanted to work, and they camped out and suffered until construction commenced in 1930.  Sometimes the temperatures rose to a blistering 130°.

Over 21,000 men worked on the dam, about 5,000 at any given time, in three shifts a day round the clock.  Men worked seven days a week, fired if they refused.  Two days off a year, Christmas and July 4th, optional and without pay.  It is estimated that 107 men lost their lives on the project which was miraculously finished in record time.  There were work-related issues, a strike, oftentimes a carelessness toward worker safety and health, but most issues were cast aside to complete the project. 

Hoover Dam
After serving its purpose, the water is released on the other
side of the dam.
Imagine this miracle: the Colorado River was diverted on Nov. 14, 1932 and the last concrete was poured on May 29, 1935.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated it (then known as the Boulder Dam) on Sept. 30, 1935.  The time span is a miracle!  Just think of public works’ progress in your area today!

And public works the Hoover Dam was.  This was man’s attempt to harness a wild, untamed river, the Grand Canyon carver—the mighty Colorado River.  Harness its power and floods plaguing one section might be stopped and allow agriculture to flourish.  Harness its power and the desert could be watered into cooperation with agriculture and human life. 

Had the dam been built by pouring concrete the conventional way, the concrete would have taken 125 years to cure.  New techniques had to be  developed.  There are a host of engineering and architectural developments as by-products of the dam’s construction.

When the gracefully arched dam was finished and the water poured in to the area beyond, Lake Mead was formed—115 miles long and 500 feet deep.  This is in the middle of the desert! 

Hoover Dam
Notice the white "border."
Only once in its history were the spillways opened.  That was in 1980.
The water level was so high that it left its watermark as it receded.
I think it adds even more beauty to the scene.  Don't you agree?
The Hoover Dam is also beautiful.  Its design is futuristic in an art deco style.  In the engine room where 17 turbines generate two billion watts of electricity, the floors are terrazzo marble in designs reminiscent of Native American patterns. The dam is magnificent, inside and out. There is even a celestial map marking the exact position of the stars on the day President Roosevelt dedicated the dam.

Hoover Dam
Priceless by today's standards.
Impossible to use terrazzo marble today.
Hoover Dam
You can also see how huge these designs are.
Quite magnificent.
Here is a sad and interesting fact culled from a PBS special on the dam.  On Dec. 20, 1935, a worker, Patrick Tierney fell from an intake tower and drowned.  He was the last man to die on the project.  He died 13 years to the day that the first man died—J.G. Tierney, his father, a surveyor who fell from a boat and drowned.

Hoover Dam
Las Vegas is grand, but the Hoover Dam is grander.  Don’t miss it.  Pause to consider who this wonder was created.  Your jaw will drop in awe.



Anonymous said...

you are right Hoover Dam is really something to see. we even took the tour.

Hugh said...

Worry not, but wanted to tell you at least for here that I enjoyed seeing the Hoover Dam article again, almost a duplicate from when Carol and I made the same visit.
Have a great week, Take good care of each other,