About an hour into the trip, right on the border between Nevada and Arizona which runs along the Colorado River, we hit Hoover Dam...
Damn being the operative word. We weren't planning to stop, but... damn. Looking over the edge gave me the shivers.
For a bit of perspective, see where the water is disturbed near the center of the photo? Look straight up from there and a little to the left, where you will see on the end of the "walkway", a little white dot about the size of a head of a pin. That dot is a car, and the walkway was actually a wide roadway outside of an enormous building containing about eight huge generators, connected to the entrances at the top of the dam through a maze of elevators and underground tunnels.
Pictures cannot do it justice. It is nearly three times as tall as the Statue of Liberty. Enough concrete to pave a two lane highway from New York to San Francisco. It was huge, and quite surreal. The early 30's Art Deco design of the whole place was also incredible. I particularly liked the statues.
This is one of two 30' brass sculptures overlooking the dam, created by Oskar Hansen, the designer of all the decoration that adorns the dam. Why are the toes of the statue shinier than the rest of it? Because, legend has it that if you rub them, it will bring you luck in Las Vegas.
Despite the crowds, the real feeling of the place to me was something grand and surreal, meant to lie alone, timeless, like a mystery hidden in the middle of the desert.
The idea behind building the Colorado River was, frankly, kind of insane. It may have never been attempted if not for America's greatest manmade disaster ever. In 1905, irrigation canals from the Colorado were brought into rich agricultural land in California's Imperial Valley, located in the southeast corner of California. During a flood in 1905, the canals burst and the full force of the Colorado River roared into the Imperial Valley, creating the Salton Sea, a body of water that at its peak was nearly the size of Rhode Island. Eventually, engineers restored the Colorado to its original course, but by that time, the damage was done. The water from the Colorado mixed with salt deposits and slowly disolved, leaving a huge saltwater wetlands. It is still being used as a huge recepticle for agricultural runoff water, contaminated by pesticide and animal waste... after years of evaporation and salinization, the water is nearly as salty asthe Pacific Ocean. When the Salton Sea finally evaporates, it will create a giant dead sea, the earth permanently scarred so that nothing could ever grow there again.
Over 400 people died making the Hoover Dam. It took just five years to build.
Even though we were only outside near the dam for about 50 minutes during a relatively cool day (by Vegas standards) we were absolutely parched to the point of dizziness... the desert there literally sucks the moisture right out of your body. We made our way back to the car, pressing on into Arizona, passing numerous beautiful desert flowers, headed east towards Flagstaff. We needed gas and a break along the way, so we visited a town called Seligman near Highway 40... several miles off the highway, actually, along a segment of road that used to be part of old Route 66, which used to run from Chicago to Santa Monica, CA.
<img alt="Getting a bit of sun..." src="http://www.freespeech.org/insomnia/livejournal/route66two.jpg" As we pressed on, things gradually became, for lack of a better word, Southwestern, but even that changed; we soon discovered that Arizona was quite different than what we thought it would be... but that's a story for the next installment.