Letters From a Bus
Elevations: 697' river elevation; 1221' lake elevation (when full). Right now there is drought and the lake is down. The Dam length is 1244 ft. and the Dam thickness is 660 ft. at its base. It is 45 ft. thick at its crest. The elevation at the crest is 1244 ft. 4/4/08
April 2008: Springtime Desert
3rd entry for April

Lake Mead and Hoover Dam

Las Vegas, NV, Day Six at Oasis Las Vegas RV Resort, Site: 180

Saturday, April 5, 2008 — Ten Months

On Friday, April 4th, we set out to find Hoover Dam.  I don't know why I don't research these expeditions first.  We have a tendency to set out with the most vague of information.  After I've seen the attraction — then, I get all interested and do research and find out all about it.  But before hand I don't have enough information and therefore not enough interest to assemble some facts.

So as usual, we set out with a generalized not-very-good tourist flyer map. We headed east on Warm Spring Rd because it looked like it would cross a freeway (93/95) that would take us south and east to Lake Mead.  This is how unprepared we were: on the way we went blank and tried to remember whether the dam is called Boulder Dam or Hoover Dam.  We weren't sure.  Actually, I didn't know about Lake Mead either.  I just knew that the dam blocks the Colorado River.  I've never been to Hoover Dam so that might be some kind of excuse but Dennis has none.  He drove through Las Vegas and stopped at Hoover Dam with his wife. But it was in the seventies and it was August and super hot so they stopped, looked, and left quickly.

Anyway, we found our way towards Lake Mead and stumbled on a very pretty little town situated above the lake en route to Hoover Dam.  It's called Boulder City!  So we thought that explained our confusion about the names because Boulder City and Hoover Dam are kind of synonymous in terms of being adjacent and related to each other.  But no, our confusion was legitimate. Early plans called for the dam to be built in Boulder Canyon and it was known as the Boulder Canyon Project. Many people called it Boulder Dam.

We visit Hoover Dam. 4/4/08

I would guess that Boulder City is laid out for tourists.  It has a darling town center with lots of little shops and plenty of little parks with many sculptures.  I spotted a Starbucks and several pretty outdoor cafes. From town we descended down towards Lake Mead and immediately stopped at a view point.  It was 10:30 AM and the drive only took 40 minutes. It wasn't a particularly nice day in terms of photography. Rain was predicted in Los Angeles and we had grayish skies although it was sunny and warm.

We continued down Highway 93 south towards the lake but before we arrived at Hoover Dam we saw signs for Lake Mead National Recreation Area. We decided to make a detour down to the lake and take a look. We turned left on Lake Shore Rd. and entered the National Park, stopping at the entrance station. Inside the Area, the first thing we stumbled across was a large and spacious RV park. We drove through it and discovered some marvelous sites with a good views of the lake at the bottom of Lake Mead RV Village . "My goodness," we said, "this would be a nice place to stay." No airplanes flying overhead! It's quiet and it's very near Boulder City and it's close enough to Las Vegas so that it wouldn't be hard to go into the city to see a show.

We stopped at the office. Everything appeared to be new and very nice and clean. However, the lady at the desk must have been a volunteer. We asked about a space for a 42' bus and she looked appalled. "Oh, I don't think we take buses here," she said. I guess she thought in terms of mobile homes. She really knew nothing. So we finally ascertained that the spot we located is available for temporary RVs who stay for no longer than fourteen days. We got prices ($261.60 / week) and left. We will put this into our plans — maybe for next spring.

We continued to explore the immediate nearby Recreation Area. We drove down to the beach and then over to the marina. On our way out we stopped at the Visitor's Center.

Just below Boulder City we stopped at a view pullout to see the lake. 4/4/08 Site 30 at Lake Mead RV Village would do us very well. 4/4/08
Looking down the line from site 30 towards site 20, I spotted a rental RV. I haven't seen this before. 4/4/08 The office is up the hill near the entrance. 4/4/08
A large part of the park is comprised of mobile homes. 4/4/08 Just down the road from the park is a swimming beach. You can't launch boats here. There's a marina towards those black hills. 4/4/08
The water is cold. The black figure walking out of the water is a guy who is training for a triathelon. He's wearing a wetsuit. 4/4/08 We drove over to the marina. A paddlewheel vessel is docked on the right. You can take lake cruises over to the dam. 4/4/08
This is my view of Dennis when we stop somewhere. It takes me forever to get out of the car. This time, I forgot my sun visor, the car is locked, I don't have my key and he's out of earshot. Why can't I get organized? 4/4/08
We stopped at the Visitor's Center and I took some photos of their desert garden. I saw huge yellow blooms on Joshua trees as we drove through Boron but we didn't stop to get a photo. Here they are but now they're past their prime. Darn! 4/4/08
Really! This area is very dry and grim looking. Do I want to stay here at all? Maybe in the late winter, early spring for a little while.... 4/4/08
Here are some things we learned. The Lake Mead National Recreation Area was established on October 8, 1964. It currently receives 7 to 8 million visitors every year. This is one of the most popular of the National Recreation Areas in the United States.

Lake Mead, is named for Dr. Elwood Mead, the U.S. Reclamation Commissioner between 1924 and 1936. Lake Mead is the reservoir impounded by the Hoover Dam. Over 1.5 million acres are dedicated to the Lake Mead NRA. When the lake is full, it has over 550 miles of shoreline and it covers around 247 square miles. The 'water part' of Lake Mead consists of five basins, each with its own unique features. Within these basins Lake Mead can store almost 2 years average flow from the Colorado River.

Lake Mead is open year round for visitors to enjoy its many recreational opportunities, wildlife and many scenic wonders. There are now eight marinas located in the park which offer services such as boat slips, boat and house boat rentals. Within the park there are now 8 campgrounds, a couple of motels and 5 RV campgrounds with hookups.

Lake Mead NRA is home to to desert animals such as the Bighorn sheep, Mule deer, Coyotes, the Kit Fox, Bobcats, Ringtail cats, the Desert Tortoise, a large variety of birds and various reptiles such as Chuckwalla lizards, an occasional Gila Monster and several kinds of rattle snakes.


Lake Mead RV Village is below the Visitor's Center. 4/4/08
"Lake Mead is the reservoir impounded by the Hoover Dam" — don't you love that language??? It's something locked into an enclosure; it's goods taken into official custody; it's withheld by legal means, and it's water saved and collected in a dam or reservoir. It sure is.

Now most of you know this. But I'll pass on to you what I didn't know — just in case. Here’s the lay of the land.

Put your right hand out and stretch the fingers apart (but tuck under the ring and little finger).  Your thumb is pointing west towards Las Vegas and it represents the west side of Lake Mead. The fleshy part between your thumb and index finger is where Boulder City and Hoover Dam is located.  The Colorado River is backed up at the dam and escapes southward, down your wrist and arm.  That’s called Black Canyon.  Name your thumb, “Boulder Basin.”

Your index finger points northward up a finger of Lake Mead called Virgin River Basin and Overton Arm.  The Muddy River and the Virgin River flow southward into this finger.  Name your index finger, “Overton Arm.”

If you stretch your middle finger to the right (as much as possible) that will stand for the east side of the lake as it narrows down into Temple Basin, Temple Bay, Virgin Canyon, and then curves northward into Gregg Basin. This is where all the drainage of Grand Wash flows south into the Colorado River.  Name your  middle finger, “Gregg Basin.”

The Colorado river itself is flowing north from the Grand Canyon and then makes a U-turn and hooks south into Iceburg Canyon and Gregg Basin flowing into the canyons that form Lake Mead.  Name your right hand, “The Recreation Map of Lake Mead.” 

The Recreation Map of Lake Mead. Above, map. Below, satellite.
Our first indication of the dam ahead were these strange, bent power towers.
This area incorporates two states.  The state lines of Arizona and Nevada descend down the middle of your middle finger and across your index finger and down your wrist.  In other words, Arizona is to the east and south of the river, and Nevada is to the west and north of Lake Mead and the Colorado River.  So we came to Boulder City in Nevada but when we walked across Hoover Dam, at the center of the river, we crossed into Arizona.

Finally we resumed our drive east on 93 towards Hoover Dam. The first things we saw were power lines and construction for a tall highway bridge that will cross the river below the dam.

Left, there's another one of those rental RVs ahead of us. Above, my first impression was of a tremendous amount of construction activity. Below, the garage was huge and surprisingly beautiful. It was well designed, airy and light. The floors were waxed and tires squealed as cars drove around to each level. 4/4/08
We parked on the fourth level. The view from the garage deck was spectacular. It gave us our first good view of the dam. The height of the garage also gave us some perspective on the height of the dam. It is unusual that the garage has stairs as well as elevators. 4/4/08
Dennis and Elsa pose on the fourth level of the parking garage view deck at Hoover Dam. 4/4/08
We went down to the street level and again, our first view of the dam was one of those crazy leaning towers. 4/4/08
Once out of the garage, we walked towards the dam and came to this memorial. It is dedicated to the men who built Hoover Dam. There were 112 deaths associated with the dam. The sculptures by Oskar J. W. Hansen are two "Winged Figures of the Republic." They are perfect for this area — uplifiting and inspiring. 4/4/08
On the floor extending from the base of the cliff is a semicircle with lines indicating the compass and the line of the sun during the year. I love that they made this diagram. It fascinates me. I was very impressed and I noticed that a number of people paused at this spot and were very respectful of the area.

"The diagram traces a complete sidereal revolution of the equinox; otherwise known as the platonic or great year. The average length of a complete sidereal revolution is 25,695.5 tropical years: but may differ from the mean time of revolution by 251.2 years. The mean line of the precession of the pole of the earth's equator, shown here by the outside circumference of this white metal circle, is 46".9' in diameter."

Beyond the dedication area we came to a view of the first of two intake towers. This one is on the Nevada side. We are standing on the Lake Mead side of the dam. The architectural design (done by Gordon B. Kaufmann) reflects that era with an elegant Art Deco style that is striking and impressive.
We crossed the street and peered down the walls of the dam to the boiling waters of the emerging Colorado River below. 4/4/08
Looking along the line of the dam wall towards the far, Arizona end. The first concrete was placed into the dam on June 6, 1933. No structure of the magnitude of the Hoover Dam had been built before so many of the procedures used in construction of the dam were untried. Since concrete heats up and contracts as it cures, uneven cooling and contraction of the concrete posed a serious problem.  To solve this problem the dam was built in a series of interlocking trapezoidal columns. Each pour was no more than six inches deep. There is 4.5 million cubic yards of concrete in the dam and related structures — enough concrete to pave a two-lane highway from San Francisco to New York. 4/4/08
Looking along the wall or looking down makes me feel dizzy. As a child, peering down from a height, I was always afraid my glasses would slip off my nose and be lost forever. Now I'm afraid I'll drop my camera! Even looking at this photo makes me feel dizzy. I am not comfortable with heights. The dam height is 726.4 ft. Hoover Dam is the second highest dam in the United States. Oroville Dam is taller. 4/4/08
Left, looking down on the power plants. Above, are those the diversion tunnels? I should have taken the tour. Construction on Hoover dam was begun in 1931 and finished in 1935. 4/4/08
Standing on the dam and looking south, down the river, we have a good view of the new bridge under construction. 4/4/08
We continue our progress walking across the dam. Above, I am looking back towards Nevada. In the distance are the tiered steps of the garage levels built into the hill. 4/4/08
The dam is built with concrete but there is a lot of masonry also. See those little walls snaking around the hills? Ever, the masonry contractor, Dennis looks over the dam and says, "This would have been a great job." 4/4/08
Elevations: 697' river elevation; 1221' lake elevation (when full). Right now there is drought and the lake is down. The Dam length is 1244 ft. and the Dam thickness is 660 ft. at its base. It is 45 ft. thick at its crest. The elevation at the crest is 1244 ft. 4/4/08
Satellite photo of the Boulder Basin (thumb) portion of Lake Mead. May 3, 2000.
On the far side of the dam we crossed the street to look at Lake Mead and saw the edge of the lake on the Arizona side. The average elevation of Lake Mead is 1176 feet.  Since Hoover Dam was completed, Lake Mead has suffered three major droughts. In 1955 the elevation of the lake surface dropped to almost 1100 feet, but recovered to normal levels within a year. In 1964 the level dropped below 1100 feet, and took a decade to recover. When water levels drop below 1,145’ feet the Water Authority declares a “Drought Alert.”  When levels drop below 1,125’ feet, a Drought Emergency is declared. As I understand it, in February 2008, the water level in Lake Mead was at 340 meters or 1,115.49 feet. http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Study/LakeMead/ and http://spectrum.ieee.org/mar08/6071
Low water levels in Lake Mead create the "bathtub ring effect." This is the Arizona intake tower with the clock showing the time in Arizona to be 1:30 PM. 4/4/08
The plaque says, "A modern civil engineering wonder of the United States — one of seven selected by the American Society of Civil Enginerrs, 1955." Below, an arrow points left to Nevada and another points right to Arizona. 4/4/08
On the Lake Mead side of the dam, I am standing in the center of the dam, center of the river, center of the lake at the dividing line between Nevada and Arizona.
This is the Nevada intake tower with the clock showing the time in Nevada to be — also 1:30 PM. That's because Arizona doesn't go on daylight savings. 4/4/08 We walked back towards the memorial site. This photo shows a crevice in the cliffs. A number of palm trees are planted at this location. 4/4/08
Back near the garage we paused to look into the Hoover Dam Store. After all this vastness, they provided a tiny space for the store and it was very crowded so we left quickly. We went into the cafe where there was little available so we settled on the ordinarily forbidden — hotdogs. Dennis wanted to go on the Hoover Dam tour, down into the serious working of the dam — the power plant. I didn't feel up to it. I spotted the lady sitting in the photo (left) and figured she was waiting for her husband to return from the tour. I told Dennis I would be very happy to sit and wait, but he declined. Maybe next time.... 4/4/08
We sat on the Cafe deck to eat lunch and I couldn''t resist taking a photo of this girl's mane of red hair. When they stood up I asked if I could take a photo of them and they were happy to oblige. I called them my Las Vegas rock stars. They said they were from the Ukraine — or was it Belarus? 4/4/08
This wonderful sculpture stands at the entrance of the garage. I couldn't take a photo from the other side because of the busy street and from this side I was shooting against the light. It is a really marvelous tribute to the men who built Hoover Dam. 4/4/08 Walking back to the garage I took a photo of the cliff face that was blasted away to build this structure. I took the elevator to the fourth level and Dennis climbed the stairs. He got up there at the same time as I did! What a showoff.... 4/4/08
I was surprised at the crowds we saw at Hoover Dam. I didn't know that it was such a popular tourist attraction. Named one of the Top 10 Construction Achievements of the 20th C., Hoover Dam attracts more a million visitors a year. It is a National Historic Landmark and it is Nevada's first tourist attraction.

I am very glad we did come out to see Hoover Dam. It is a an amazing achievement and a wonderful spectacle to witness. I would like to return to go on those tours.

But now our emphasis returns to Las Vegas. On our next outing we plan to find the old Las Vegas strip and do the "Fremont Street Experience."

Elsa Walton, Oasis Las Vegas RV Resort, Las Vegas, NV,Saturday, April 5, 2008