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Tour of the Southwest
Phoenix, Tucson, Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Las Vegas
October 2004

Phoenix 1 Phoenix 2 Tucson Grand Canyon Hoover Dam
Las Vegas 1 Las Vegas 2 Las Vegas 3 Las Vegas 4

Back down out of the hills and into the desert, now more desolate than ever. Vast stretches of nothing. I understand why areas like this have been used for nuclear test sites and radioactive dumping grounds - there's plenty of room and not much out there to hurt. The further west we go the more desolate it gets until the dusty valleys give way to hills of barren rock. Scrub and cacti can't find a place to perch and even the loose rocks are black as if burned by the sun. The roadbed is cut into the hill and you can see the strata stacked one on top another, geologic time stretching back so far that you can't help but feel insignificant, as if the vast stretches of nothing already didn't make you feel small.

Turn the corner and -BAM- there's the largest man-made lake in the U.S., thanks to Hoover Dam.

Approaching from the east, Hoover Dam isn't much to look at. The lake covers up the back side of the dam and you can't even see much of the lake due to the surrounding canyon walls. The intake towers stick up from the surface, but even with the water level a bit low there's just not much to see at first.

The eastern, Nevada-side overflow tunnel.

The drive across the dam is short and anti-climactic as well. I just wasn't impressed. I'd done a lot of research on the dam and had seen amazing historical photos showing the work in progress. I knew the incredible feat of engineering, some equipment and techniques that had to be invented just for the project, the  massive labor that went into it, not to mention the lives lost. It just didn't seem to be reflected in the finished results.

But lean over the edge and look down 726 feet of concrete...

The trucks lined up in front of one of the power station looked like matchbox cars. Thinking about the volume of water held back by the suddenly-seeming-thin ribbon of concrete sent chills up my neck.

We didn't have the motivation to spend the time and money on the tour, so we settled for a stroll around the site instead. Definitely worth a stop and others have said the tour is worth the money. If nothing else, you get a better view from the new visitor's center that you can't get into without paying admission.

 On the other side you cruise through Boulder City, built on the remnants of the town set up for the construction workers for Boulder Dam, as the project was initially called, back in the 1930's. The town is now something of a suburb of Las Vegas, though it huddles more closely to Lake Mead than the big city just on the other side of the hill. But look off into the distance in any other direction and you can see miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles.

It looks like it might have been a lake bed at one time, millions of years ago, now a dead, flat dusty floor stretching off to meet the hills in the distance.

Turn the corner and there's another huge valley that should also be empty, but is almost filled entirely by one of the fastest growing cities on earth - Las Vegas.

Phoenix 1 Phoenix 2 Tucson Grand Canyon Hoover Dam
Las Vegas 1 Las Vegas 2 Las Vegas 3 Las Vegas 4

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