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Route 66 Las Vegas

18th July 2010

A Community Destroyed by a Flashflood and the Marvels of Hoover Dam

    Spending the night in Walmart's car park was novel. Up until now, wherever I had slept, it had always been pitch black and fairly quite, apart from the odd train. However, at the Kingman Walmart it was like camping on Blackpool prom, the lights never went out and there was always some noise about. I could cope with that, but not the heat. I resorted to opening the side door of the van to allow the hint of a breeze to enter the van. Admit ably this was a security risk, but the need justified the means. Sweat was pouring out of me all night, and I just couldn't get comfortable at all. I was glad when 6am came and the store opened again. I dashed in to buy ice and more liquids.
    I left Kingman just before 8am, and an electronic display by a store indicated it was already 98 deg. F. I couldn't bear to think what it would be like at Hoover Dam which was at a lower elevation.
Joshua Tree
    The Route 93 to the dam was a fairly straight run through a long, wide, desert valley. I relieved the boredom with a blast of Cream at almost full volume, which never ceased to revive the spirits. About 50 miles up the road there was a turn off to a White Hills "historic marker". I came across many such markers on my tour, and I decided to add a bit of excitement to this leg by exploring this one. The road took me across a desert plain that was peppered with Joshua trees, and many examples of dried up river beds, ready to become raging torrents in a flash flood situation. After the plain I found myself steadily climbing the White Hills, where eventually the road petered out into gravel roads.
Dried Up River Bed
    Here lay a motley collection of buildings, most of which had been mobile homes at one time, scattered across a wide expanse of desert. There was no focal point, and I wondered why people chose to live in such a remote hostile environment.
    I found the historic part of the White Hills story dated back to 1899. Then there was a small community of miners and prospectors working a fairly profitable silver mine. Sadly a flash flood totally destroyed the community, and now there was nothing left to indicate the community ever existed.
    I wound my way back down from the hills and across the plain and onto Route 93 again, and continued my journey to Hoover Dam. Within five miles of the dam the approach was full of roadworks, and it was clear that another road was being built up to the dam. I rounded a bend and there it was below me. It was not the earth shattering sight that I had expected, it seemed quite small in width, but I was to learn later that a narrow part of Black Canyon was chosen to minimise the amount of concrete required.
White Hills Letterboxes
First Sighting of Hoover Dam
    The route down to the dam followed a series of switchbacks, and then the traffic drove across the dam, before climbing switchbacks on the other side. This was a real bottleneck for Route 93, and also a major security hazard for the dam. Hence the reason for the new road being built with its spanning bridges, that would completely bypass the switchbacks and dam. The main bridge spanning Black Canyon was clearly visible from the dam, and was an elegant structure. Work had begun on it in 2006, and it was due to be completed by November.
    I decided to take the dam tour, and checked in through security, before being allowed to purchase a ticket. At the ticket desk the lady advised that I would have to wait 90 mins. for the next available tour, and she gave me a flimsy plastic helmet, that was neither use nor ornament, apart from indications to tour guides as to who was doing the full tour as opposed to just the turbine hall tour. I looked at it, and told the lady about a sport in England called cricket, where the batsmen put similar shaped items down the front of their trousers as protection. "Do they need them that big?", she joked. "Oh yes", I replied ,"in England they do". We both laughed. The humour got worse when a girl checking tickets asked to see my dam ticket. Work it out.
Dam Wall - The Small Opening a Third of the Way Up and One Fifth
the Way Across was the Ventilation Opening Where I Peered Out From
    While waiting for the tour to start, a 15 min. video gave an excellent overview of the reasons for the dam (flood control) and the politics involved in getting the project approved in the first place, and then focused on how the dam was built.
Nevada Turbine Hall
    We took a lift down 500', and then walked through a tunnel which eventually met up with one of the penstocks feeding a turbine hall. The ground was vibrating due to the water movement through the penstock. Roughly enough water to fill an Olympic sized swimming pool was flowing though each of the two penstocks every 7 seconds. The water would be traveling though each penstock at roughly 12 mph, before feeding a series of smaller diameter pipes that fed each turbine, where the water speeds would be 45 mph. When we got to the Nevada turbine hall, it was gleaming as all turbine halls do. In fact the whole setup was gleaming, with lots of art deco type tiles with inlaid mosaics.
    The rest of the tour took us through tunnels within the dam structure, all following the natural curvature of the dam. We even came across the "stairway to heaven", an impressive flight of stairs that not only followed the curvature of the dam, but also went from the bottom to the top of the dam. The maze of tunnels needed ventilation, and our guide took us down a horizontal ventilation shaft that terminated in the dam wall, from which we got an impressive sight.
    Some of the cracks in the tunnel walls had been marked as far back as the 40s, and every five years or so they would be checked to see if they had got worse. One interesting feature was the dam construction. It had been built as a series of interlocking concrete blocks. As with Glen Canyon dam, refrigerated water had been passed through steel pipes within the concrete to keep the concrete cool when setting (concrete gives off heat as it sets). This helped to prevent cracks developing. It had been calculated that if the whole dam had been cast as one huge single block of concrete, it would have taken 125 years to cool down. The dam was not linked or bound in any way to the bedrock or canyon walls. It just rested under its own weight, and the force of the water kept the sides pressed against the canyon walls. By decoupling its integrity from its surroundings, it was much less susceptible to earthquakes, and it was estimated to withstand an earthquake of a magnitude greater than eight on the Richter scale.
New Bridge Over Black Canyon from Ventilation Tunnel
    I found it all fascinating, not just the technicalities, but also the political shenanigans that proceeded it, and how the location was chosen. It was part of a much wider plan to tame the Colorado and manage water across the south western states of America.
    I returned to my van in sweltering heat, taking care not to touch any metalwork or stoneware; they were unbearably hot. It was 117 deg. F in the dam vicinity.
    I touch the 93 in the direction of Las Vegas, and turned off to take the scenic road around Lake Mead, formed by the Hoover Dam, and the largest man-made lake in America. The Lake Mead National Recreation Area was a startling contrast of desert and water, mountains and canyons, primitive backcountry and modern technology. I found a campsite, sorted out a pitch, and immediately went for a swim in the lake. The water was like bathwater, but refreshing all the same.
Lake Mead

    Once I had cooled off sufficiently, I headed back to camp, where my isolated position in the site (apparently few people go camping around Lake Mead in summer because of the heat) allowed me to improvise a shower by standing next to a standpipe with a pan and just pouring water over myself. The water was hot; you only got cold water in hotels and restaurants. The shower served its purpose, and I headed off to Boulder City to get a fresh supply of ice and more liquids. The lady camp warden old me to expect the temperature to drop to 93 deg. F tonight. Blimey, I would need a constant supply of cool liquids.
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Route 66 Las Vegas

Uploaded from Starbucks, Boulder City NV on 19/07/10 at 09:50

Last updated 19.7.2010