Tidewater Traveler - July 2008

Falling Water


George Sellers

   This is the best ice cream sandwich by a dam site! Actually, it is the only ice cream sandwich available at the moment, and I happen to be at a dam site. The ultra-dry, 116° air on the other side of this glass makes this ice cream treat very welcome and enjoyable – a little pricey, but enjoyable. I am seated at a table beside a large observation window overlooking four intake towers on the upstream side of Hoover Dam, which is located between the steep walls of the Black Canyon on the Colorado River.
    Reaching up from the lake surface are two towers at each end of the 1200-foot-long dam; each of the intake towers reminds me of a medieval castle turret. The pairs of towers – one pair in the State of Nevada, the other pair in Arizona; one pair in the Mountain Time Zone and one pair in the Pacific Time Zone – are connected by a concrete bridge. The two towers nearest the dam are linked to the dam by other bridges. Around the bottom of each tower I see large, screened openings with gates that can be raised and lowered to adjust the flow of water from Lake Mead through the dam to the Colorado River several hundred feet below.
    Though I cannot see it happening, the guides, photos and illustrations have led me to understand that as the water falls through huge passageways, its force causes large, fan-like blades to turn – like blowing air on a giant pinwheel to make it spin. The spinning blades are connected by a series of shafts and gears to electrical generators; as each generator is forced to rotate, electricity is produced. If you are ever prone to doubt the power of moving water, try standing still in the surf at the beach some time. What a simple concept to produce electrical power!
    On the morning that I am writing this article, I have just paid nearly $4.00 per gallon for gasoline to fill up my car; and have, over the past few days, listened to many folks grumbling or at least questioning why the cost of energy is so high (None, by the way, were Amish!). I am NOT a remarkably intelligent person, just an average guy; (though I did buy a Prius a few years ago, enabling me to ride about 50 miles for that four-dollars-a-gallon gas!); but as I consider the simplicity of generating power for homes and businesses from the action of falling water, it causes me to wonder how we have evolved into the complex, foreign-oil energy-dependent society that we are. I do not propose to return to stone-age modes of transportation and styles of living. I like comfort! But really, sitting here nibbling my ice cream sandwich and watching water drain into a hole to produce energy – that’s pretty simple!
    Now for a good trivia question – if this is Hoover Dam, where is Boulder Dam? Isn’t it also on the Colorado River? As a travel planner, educator and geography major, I must admit that I am a bit embarrassed to learn that Hoover Dam and Boulder Dam are two names for the same dam. Damn!
    From its inception in the late 1920s, the project located near Boulder City, Nevada, was commonly referred to as Boulder Dam, and the common name stuck. Also, from the beginning, the dam’s official name was Hoover Dam, named for Herbert Hoover, who while Secretary of Commerce in 1922 hammered out agreements among the seven states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) that would be impacted by the massive Colorado River flood control project; agreements that would ultimately allow the project to go forward. In 1935, Hoover Dam was completed and Lake Mead formed.
    I am impressed by “bigness.” I think that the “search for bigness” is one of the motivations for leisure travel. Typically when people are asked what they would like to see in the world answers include attractions like Grand Canyon, Great Wall of China, well-known mountain peaks, New York City, Golden Gate Bridge, world’s largest ball of string, and so on – big stuff. Travelers often seek superlatives. Though Hoover Dam is now ONLY the 34th largest dam in the world, seeing it in person is still a thrill. One must then wonder – Wow! How much bigger can the other 33 dams be?!? Hoover Dam is 1,244 feet long and 726 feet high with a roadway across the top that links Nevada to Arizona.
    It would be unusual for a person to choose to fly or drive to the desert Southwest just to see Hoover Dam. But if a trip takes you to Las Vegas, I assure you it will be worth your time to take a drive or tour to see Hoover Dam, the Colorado River, Black Canyon and Lake Mead. The ride from Las Vegas takes about 45 minutes.
    A typical tour includes a narrated ride on a motorcoach to the edge of the canyon at the Nevada end of the dam. The duration of the visit varies from one hour to several hours. An option while at the site is to join a guided tour down into the belly of the great concrete mass to experience the generator cavern, control rooms, water diversion tunnels (claustrophobics beware!), and museum-display areas.
    A pleasant morning or afternoon can be added to the tour by including a lunch or dinner cruise aboard a stern-wheeler on Lake Mead. The lake cruiser goes to within sight of the dam and intake towers.
    Speaking of bigness, beginning in 2007 and lasting for a few years, visitors to the Black Canyon area will be impressed by the magnitude and uniqueness of construction equipment being employed to build a new bridge across the canyon several hundred yards down-stream from the dam. I could just stand and view this scene for hours – yes, I am impressed by bigness!
    May all of your travels be happy and safe!

George Sellers is a Certified Travel Counselor and Accredited Cruise Counselor who operates the popular travel web site and travel planning service SellersTravel.com. Comments or suggestions about Tidewater Traveler articles may be directed to George@SellersTravel.com.