Feb 17

Day 2 – Hoover Dam

Category: Death Valley

OK – you’ve seen the history channel special, and you know all about it. Maybe you’ve been there, seen that, or live near the dam (sic) thing. But for me, it’s something I’ve seen in previously only in books and on TV. So I’ll sing in the superlative voice, because it’s everything it’s cracked up to be.

hoover dam

Hoover dam is big, surprisingly clean-looking and impressive in every way. The sinuous contour of the dam’s face surprised me; I had expected it to be flat, as f the dam was built like a pyramid. Instead, the slope of its face curves organically in a way I didn’t expect. I also didn’t anticipate the traffic. The road that sits on the back of the dam is a bottleneck that has plagued locals for years. A new bridge is being built right in front of the dam; it has been a subject of some controversy because of the impact to scenery in the region of the dam. In the next picture, taken from the top of the dam, you can see the bridge construction and the forest of transmission towers that carry the dam’s product away.

bridge constructonI have to agree that the majesty of the dam will be interrupted by the new traffic artery, but I don’t live there or have to deal with the dam (sic) traffic. Except today; but even with heavy traffic it wasn’t that bad. It took maybe 45 minutes to reach the dam from the Henderson area, where we stopped to get back-country supplies from the REI and food market. By the way – more on those transmission line towers: some of them are mounted at odd angles because the generating turbines are at the bottom of the canyon.

transmission towers

There are two kinds of tours at Hoover dam: the quick, shallow tour, and a longer, better one that takes you down into the dam. The better tour cannot be reserved in advance, and costs a few bucks more. 90% of people are either ignorant of the better option or simply don’t care. Our small group waiting for the good tour watched as an unending horde of people were intimidated into elevators packed way above their rated capacities by an astonishingly rude, obese harpy with oatmeal skin and porcine eyes, a creature born too late for her true calling of Auschwitz train conductor. The level of overcrowding on Hoover dam elevators would aggravate a mild case of claustrophobia into a foaming panic. When the doors finally opened, everyone was relieved to spill out into the damp corridors.

hoover dam corridor

The curvature of the tunnels follows the gentle curvature of the dam. Within a giant cavern blasted from each side of the canyon, a penstock (pipe wide enough for two greyhound buses) forces unimaginable volumes of water into the generator turbines. there is no person in the picture below, but for scale, look at the catwalk on the left side, which is wide enough for one person with outstretched arms.
penstock on western side

Next we were led to the west side generator gallery. Each one has a light on top that indicates if the unit is in use; when we were there, the cool weather resulted in low demand for electricity, so only a few of the dam’s many generators were in use.
generator gallery

One of the giant generator rotors had been removed for periodic maintenance and lay on the floor below us.


After a few packed elevators later, we made our way to a ventilation grating midway down the face of the dam, giving us a different perspective of the dam’s lower side. The inset shows the view from inside and the main image shows the location of the almost invisible grating when looking down from the top of the dam.
grating view

Eventually we found ourselves topside and the tour over, where we could appreciate the view upstream. The water has calcified the rock’s surface, which leaves a pretty white stripe when the water level is lower than normal.

water level

And then there was this entrance to hades, which has to be one of the world’s largest drains. I can’t help but imagine falling into this during a flood and being dragged to my absolute doom.
big hole

Enough about the damned dam already. If you want to see some more images and pictures of Holly and me in the dam, look here.

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