Having visited all the great natural wonders along the Pacific coast it was time to check out some of man's greatest accomplishments as we headed back east into Nevada. While staying in Las Vegas we ran across to the Arizona border to see the Colorado river and one of the seven man made wonders of America. Hoover Dam stands out as a magnificent achievement in architectural accomplishments. Fed by snows in the northern Rockies, the Colorado river has always been a river of violent change. Mass flooding in the spring time to a dried river bed in the fall, the river needed to be harnessed. So in 1922, the seven states surrounding the river and the federal government signed a agreement known as the Colorado River Compact. This agreement split the waters flowing down the river into two basin, the Upper and the Lower. States in these areas were to split the waters among themselves. At the time, no consideration was made for Mexico. That changed in 1944. Six years after the compact was signed, Congress created the Boulder Canyon Project Act and Hoover Dam became a reality. Today it is an attraction run by the Bureau of Reclamation which operates a visitors center and offers tours through the inside of the Dam and the working power generation wings. This is were we met Greg Burkhart, our guide. You can always tell when the person taking you around is really into his job. It shows in the little things that he remembers about the days of construction and the present day-to-day operations. In the parking lot that led to the visitors center were very large multi-language signs which stated that no purses, backpacks or camera cases would be allowed inside the building or the Dam. This proved to be highly enforced as the guy in front of me tried to get his camera case through and was grabbed by the guards and escorted out. They really did mean business. Other than that, the place was spotless and filled with all sort of interesting things about the Dam and the land around it. Access to the bottom of the Dam is by elevator which holds slightly less than 100 people per trip when they are really packing them in, and our trip was packed. As we wandered along Greg produced a constant stream of facts and figures about the construction. He was particularly attentive to the young kids often engaging them in conversation with questions on what they thought. The construction, which took 4 years, utilized thousands of people. A small town grew up around the work. The construction was primarily made up of thin layers of concrete, one on top of the other. The bottom layer is 660 feet thick and climbs 726 feet to the top where it is only 45 feet across. It stretches over 1200 feet from side to side. It was estimated that the concrete will take some 1500 years to completely cure. The Dam should last at least another 3500 years after that. It was built in an arch, or slightly rounded against the water. This causes the Dam to be pushed into the rock walls by the weight of the water which it holds back. About two years of runoff from the river is stored in Lake Mead which was created by the Dam. This amounts to over one and a quarter trillion cubic meters of water. Lake Mead now stretches back over a hundred miles to create one of the areas most attractive recreational areas. Two wings stretch out from the outside base of the Dam. These house the 17 massive hydroelectric generators which produce the 2 billion watts of power supplied to Nevada, Arizona and California. The Dam continues to be an attraction with upwards of 4000 visitors a day, and over a million a year. This is worth the trip. I give it good marks for making it available to visit and for the knowledgeable guides like Greg.
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