Cascade Suspended (with apologies to Ayn Rand)

On 23/10/2012 while Alison was busy by the pool, Rohan took the opportunity to visit one of the great technological achievements of the 20th Century just over 30 miles from Downtown Las Vegas.

Today’s password is “Hoover Dam Tour”

The Hoover Dam (previously known as the Boulder Dam) was part of a swathe of visionary building projects authorised prior to and built during the aftermath of the Great Depression. Through federal loans of up to $168 million, a consortium of six companies and numerous sub-contractors was formed in order to build a structure in concrete using techniques that, at that time, were unproven.

The dias displaying two magnificent Art-Deco bronzes between the commemorative stone and flagpole where the Hoover Dam was dedicated on September 30, 1935 by FDR.

Up until this time, the lower basin formed by the Imperial Valley in California – an important and at that time dry and devastated agricultural centre of the South West. Was subject to the temperamental Colorado river and its unpredictable cycles of drought and flood.

The Hoover Dam from the Arizona Side taken before the crowds set in…

Quarrels existed between different states bordering the Colorado River as to water rights which held up construction for many years.

The project was authorised in 1928 in an agreement that effectively let California, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico and several Northern States squabble over an Upper or Lower Basin rather than the building of the Dam itself.

The Hoover Dam take from the Upstream position…in an Arizona carpark…with more people around…after we drove over after leaving Las Vegas

Work could commence and construction began in 1931 with a workforce of nearly 20,000 workers pouring into the area and living and working in terrible climatic conditions in the newly-formed ‘tent city’ community of Boulder City. The project required several steps to occur before the dam could be completed.

  • diversion of the Colorado River using four diversion tunnels driven through the canyon walls, two on the Nevada side and two on the Arizona side. These tunnels were 56 feet (17 m) in diameter. This project alone took almost 2 years – as long as it took to construct the main structure of the Hoover Dam itself. Two of the four diversion tunnels, one on the Arizona side and one on the Nevada side  were sealed with concrete plugs while the two remaining tunnels formed a spillway – a fixed mechanism that regulates the water levels behind the Dam where Lake Mead fills.

7 of the 8 turbines are operational in the Power plant on the Nevada side . Falling water levels due to increased water consumption higher -up the Colorado river have reduced the power generation from the Dam.

  • laying of groundworks for the Dam including two cofferdams to protect the workforce as they built. Concrete was layed in shallow blocks less than 1″deep. To prevent to concrete from cracking and to encourage setting, 1″ steel pipes attached to a refrigeration unit ran through the concrete mass – an innovation that improved the strength of the concrete as well as saving the project time. 
  • A race through dark places…queuing at an access port 200 feet below entry-level on the rim to take the ‘Money Shot’….

The Hoover Dam was handed over by Six Companies Inc to the Federal Government on March 1, 1936 – a full two years ahead of schedule and was dedicated on September 30, 1935. Power generation, a valuable by-product of this project began in March 1937 with three of the later 16  Francis turbine-generators, all on the Nevada side, being brought online.

The ‘Money Shot’…this is what the $30 tour buys you….that and a view of this extraordinary structure from some unusual angles

The Dam is now managed by the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) which operates several differently-priced tours which are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

So after walking the length of this state line marker from the Nevada side to the Arizona side and back, Rohan was the first in the queue down the escalators into the Visitor Centre to take the ‘Hoover Dam Tour‘.

Going Down…this access stairwell will take you all the way to the downstream foot of the Dam…or further…

This incorporates entry to the Visitor Centre, access to the Power Plant on the Nevada side on the extra guided tour down through the Dam Structure and Access ways. For the cost of $30. A little expensive but none the less a fascinating experience.

One of the most interesting and rewarding parts of the visit, as well as being bombarded with interesting facts by the excellent guide, is the chance to examine one of the many Art-Deco features that adorn this aesthetically interesting and practically honest structure.

Included were section after section of Native American floor mosaics beautifully polished and intact in what is essentially a maintenance and access tunnel.

The Nevada section of the Dam from the Observation Deck above the Visitor Centre…

The $30 tour allows for further guided exploration of the internal tunnels and walkways inside the Dam. This includes a walk down a sluice overflow tunnel  and then queuing to take a picture of the Dam’s arch – by pointing your camera upwards through a steel grate – from an angle not available through the basic Powerplant tour.

The view from the Gentlemen’s rest room window at the crown of the dam…where no fluids were exchanged in the taking of this photograph…

However, if you don’t want to pay for this additional leg or are happy just to look at the ‘Money shot’ picture, by far the best views are from the Visitor Centre observation deck. Or from one of the  Gentlemen’s rest room slatted windows in a space that resembles a marble decked hotel lobby. Each feature, including an access door handle and frame exquisitely rendered.

The drop below to the downstream  section including the Powerplants is horrifying – not helped by looking up to the  Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge – newly opened in 2010 as part of the Hoover Dam Bypass project.

It is a refreshing break from Las Vegas and it’s nonsense and a place to acknowledge.

That when a generation is confronted with the gravest financial crisis in history, a combination of inspirational leadership, boldness in vision and construction and the desire to achieve the ‘impossible’ can yield startling and lasting results.

The mid-section comes to life as the crowds and traffic pour across at lunchtime.

It’s probably why some Americans we have spoken to often refer to the people of those turbulent times as the ‘last great generation’. After all. Less than 5 years after the Dam was completed, they went off to fight  WWII in both the European and Pacific theaters.

Oh well. At least Nicole Ritchie has bought a new hat. And Facebook’s stock price has been saved by Hurricane Sandy. And it looks like something is about to kick off in Iran.

If only we had something to show for it.

The central turret from which the tour emerged into the bright Nevada sunshine…or was that the Arizona sunshine…it gets so confusing.


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