I’m gonna level here: I thought the Hoover Dam was going to be bigger. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a heck of a structure, but it felt about 2/3 the size of what I was expecting. Maybe I’d just seen too many outsized things on Las Vegas Boulevard.
It’s a great side trip, a half-hour or so from Vegas. Dig the cantilevered towers keeping the cables away from the iron-rich rock of the canyon walls.
The $10 tour basically gets you down into the dam to see the massive generators. They have claustrophobia warnings which only serve to get people like me worked up. It’s not cramped, except maybe when they squeeze 30 people in that elevator.
Then there are the statues. Public works had style in the 1930s.
Each side of the dam has a 50-foot-wide overflow tunnel, almost never needed. The tunnels drop hundreds of feet through the canyon walls to outlets beyond the generators. Hundreds of feet. I need to go back with a bowling ball.
Since 9/11 no trucks have been allowed across the dam and there’s a checkpoint on each side to inspect approaching vehicles. We got off to an early start that morning and didn’t have to wait, but by lunchtime there was a four-mile rolling backup heading for the dam.
There’s word of a new suspension bridge in the works to keep vehicles off the dam. Here’s a sweet photo of the approach from the Nevada side [via 101-365].
We drove up along Lake Mead through some tortured terrain en route to the Valley of Fire state park. The dashboard thermometer peaked at about 105, which led to at least one photo opportunity being nothing more than me rolling down the window long enough to snap a picture of the lake. We were hungry and thirsty, and after a scorching hour on the road we drove past the park entrance to find a sandwich and beer in Overton, or at worst up by the main highway.
Nothing. A McDonalds and a sketchy local bar, but nothing that screamed “sandwich and beer for you groovy cats!”
Fifteen minutes later we found zip city at the highway interchange. We headed back South along the highway… the guidebook said there would be a place to eat along the main road to the park.
The main road to the park is in a corner of an Indian reservation – there’s a truck stop/casino/fireworks shop there and nothing else. A dust devil bore down on us as we approached. Melanie got a little wigged out at the mini tornado but it ran into a truck and died out.
Five aisles of fireworks, lots of beer and liquor and a display case with old Krispy Kreme donuts. No sandwiches. The guard watching over the grim bunch at the slot machines told Melanie the closest restaurant was in North Vegas.
So that’s how we ended up parked in the dusty lot behind the truck stop/casino/fireworks shop with a package of beef jerky, Chex mix and a six-pack of Pacifico. When I looked up from the bag of jerky Melanie was staring out the passenger-side window as another dust devil bore directly down on us. We braced ourselves for impact (I expected the car to shake, air get sucked out the doors) but it passed right over us without a nudge. A guy on a forklift burst out from behind the truck stop/casino/fireworks shop and drove squinting right through the funnel, which gave up and rose into the sky pulling an empty cardboard beer box about thirty feet into the air.
I resumed chewing. That jerky hit the spot.
Valley of Fire has some intriguing formations with great bands of color from sedimentary periods. There are decent views in there but I don’t roast well so we spent limited time outside the car.
Geology on display around Fire Canyon.
Atlatl Rock showcases petroglyphs thousands of years old.