Monday, July 25, 2011

A Dam Quick Day

There. Obligatory “dam” joke out of the way. Like the title says, today was a quick day, but for some reason I’m still exhausted. Hopefully I’ll sleep well for the few hours I have until I need to be up again.

I'm getting close...
For day 2 of my Las Vegas experience, I promptly got the hell out of Las Vegas. Driving about 30 miles, I visited the Hoover Dam, since my main goal for this trip is to see the country, and the Hoover Dam is one of our most impressive achievements. On the way there, Copina Jr., my GPS, got very confused when I seemed to veer off the highway and start off-roading up the side of a mountain. Apparently she wasn’t aware that the bypass bridge and approach highways are finished.

Stepping out of the car, my first impression was that it was damn hot (not a pun,. It was really friggin’ hot.). The car said it was only about 100 but it felt just as hot as it did yesterday. I don’t’ care how many people tell me that a dry heat is better than humidity, 100 degrees isn’t pleasant either way. It’s like saying that having yo0ur pinky cut off hurts way less than having your thumb cut off. You know what? I’m not too eager to try either one, thank you very much.

Luckily, most of the tour of the dam was either air conditioned, or buried hundreds of feet inside the dam, itself, thus offering some protection from the elements. Here’s a tip for all you would-be visitors: The area where you wait for the tour to start has the best water fountains anywhere. Not sure why, if the water temperature is 51 degrees, all the water fountains can’t be as cold as those, but they’re not.

The tour starts off at the power plant, where you can literally feel the water rushing under your feet through 30-foot wide pipes (which had some other name but I don’t remember it). It’s amazing how many people had no idea how a hydroelectric plant works (Here’s the process, which is more than most of them knew: Moving water spins turbines, which create electricity). One woman asked me how they got the water from the foot of the dam all the way up into Lake Mead. Apparently her husband, like the majority of the visitors, was an engineer, and she didn’t believe him when he said the river ran downstream.

There are 17 of these things, almost enough to power the beacon on the Luxor!
Much of the tour was about the concrete used in construction of the dam – how it settled, how it cooled, as well as many of its various other properties.

dam concrete
At one point, the tour took us up to an air vent right in the middle of the dam face, which gave a sense of scale to the whole thing.

from the middle of the dam
I had expected the water level in the lake to be alarmingly low. True, there’s so little water there now that if I had jumped off the dam I probably would have built up enough speed to die upon hitting the waiter, but due to the heavy snows this winter, the lake is up about 30 feet and is expected to continue rising. So much for “we don’t know if it’ll ever be able to recover!” I had also thought that there was a strong possibility that the water level would sink below the level of the intakes on the towers, thus making it impossible for the power plant to draw in water, basically killing it. However, I learned today that the actual intake happens only 250 feet up on the 700-foot-plus towers, so that fish don’t get sucked in (I was wondering about the fish thing, too.). So southern California can keep wasting power and Las Vegas can continue being as over-the-top and ridiculous as it likes without worrying about the lake going dry, for now.

You're not really supposed to see this much of these things.
Returning to the city, I put my car back in the garage and managed to find my way over to Harrah’s for yet another buffet (“Flavors” this one was called). With my coupon it only came to something like $16! This one had a little of everything, including very good sushi and éclairs. There was an impressive selection of sugar-free desserts (Note that I say the selection, not the quality, was impressive). Service was decent, but my waiter was certainly no Orlando.

On my way back I did my requisite souvenir shopping, and now it’s off to bed. Tomorrow is one of the most navigationally confusing days of this trip. There’s a certain order I have to go through Death Valley in in order for it to work. I don’t’ remember exactly why it has to be done that way, but that’s why I wrote it down – so I wouldn’t have to remember. Once I hit the 3-5 stops there, I still have another detour at an overlook of Mt. Whitney before reaching my final destination in Mammoth Lakes. Like I said yesterday, the next few days should be the most exciting of the entire journey.


  1. ANd you were surprised when my students didn't understand that water ran downhill! Real people don't believe it either!

  2. "I don’t’ care how many people tell me that a dry heat is better than humidity, 100 degrees isn’t pleasant either way"

    "It's a dry heat Mr. Pinette" That's what they tell me as they wheel me into the ambulance. "CLEAR! Okay, he's back, thank goodness it was a dry heat.."