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Monday, October 6, 2014

Trip to Vegas and Hoover Dam

Hello from Las Vegas!  We arrived here Friday after a long 2 day trip from Lake Tahoe, Ca.  The first day we traveled  about 250 miles due south through Nevada on some of the most dry and barren land we've seen so far on our journey. We found a RV Park in Tonopah, Nv that was basically a parking lot with hook ups, but was happy to find it because there are few parks in the area. We did stumble across two interesting discoveries on Nevada 95 we weren't expecting. The first was a  US Army ammunition depot in Hawthorne, Nevada. This facility stores reserve ammunitions to be used after the first 30 days of a major conflict. It's only partially staffed during peacetime, but provision has been made to rapidly expand staffing as necessary. The depot is run by an independent contractor under an agreement with the government. There are over 2500 bunkers spread over an area of over 100 square miles to make this facility one of the largest of its' type in the world. The other  item we weren't expecting to find was the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project. This project is very different in that it has over 17,000 mirrors placed in a circular pattern around a 500 ft tall concrete tower with  mirrors placed in such a way that all the energy reflected from the mirrors is focused on the tower for the purpose of heating salt to a molten state that is used to produce steam that in turn is used to make electricity. I don't think the project is on line yet, but is close to being operational according to local sources. The second leg of our trip was about 260 miles on Nevada 95 across more dry and barren dessert that actually passed through part of Death Valley. The park we're staying at here in Las Vegas is named Duck Creek RV Park and is near Henderson. This park is pretty nice and is quite reasonable with rates of $25/night with the Passport America discount. It's about 6 miles from the strip in downtown Vegas. The cheapest we've seen diesel here in Vegas is $3.59 gallon.

Yesterday (Saturday) we headed out to explore Hoover Dam, which impounds Lake Mead. Upon seeing the dam for the first time, my first reaction was it's smaller than I had always thought it to be. It is in fact a huge structure, but I had always pictured it to be larger than it is. Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the US by volume but has seen a significant decline in level in recent years due to drought and increased usage. The lake is at over 100 feet below full pond and is declining at the average of one inch per week. When first viewing the lake, it's very obvious where the former water level was as the once water covered rocks are now dry and have turned much lighter and is called the "bathtub ring" by locals. We had heard for years that the road across the dam had been closed due to increased 9/11 security, but we learned the road across the dam has never closed, although there is a security checkpoint you have to go through before crossing the dam. We were one of the lucky ones to be pulled for inspection. There are parking lots on both sides of the dam that charge $10 to park, however we learned you can cross the dam and go to the Arizona side past the dam and park free and walk back across the dam. There is a $10 fee to go into the Visitor's Center, which we chose to forgo as well as the costly tours in and around the dam area. The new Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Bridge just below the dam has been open for about 4 years and is an engineering marvel. All the Highway 93 traffic that used to cross the dam now crosses the new bridge. One side note, the temperature was in the low 90's while there but an employee we spoke to told us it had been 127 there two weeks ago!

Hawthorne Ammunition Depot
500 ft concrete tower at Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project

First sign we saw leaving Tonapah

Miles of straight roads through desert.

About the only living thing we saw was sagebrush and an occasional cactus.

Pit stop in the desert.

Approaching Lake Mead.

Security sign on walkway to dam.

Dam showing the 4 water intakes. The 2 on the far side are on the Nevada side and the 2 on the closer side are on the Arizona side.

You can see the "bathtub ring" where the water level used to be. Over 100 ft drop in level.

Water from the Colorado River is very clear.

Back side of the dam. The dam is about the same thickness at the base as it is high!

Spillway with view of new bridge.

Monument honoring workers that built the dam.

Impressive floor in front of monument.

Visitor's Center.

There was a dog who was a mascot of the construction crew at the dam who was accidentally killed and is buried and memorialized at the dam.

Shot of dam taken from new bridge.

Sidewalk on new bridge.

I thought the shadow of the bridge was kind of neat. Guess you can tell it's pretty high.

Picture of a boat pier when lake was full that dramatically shows how much the lake has gone down.

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