Saturday, 15 March 2008

Round the World Five - Day 10 (Sat, 15 Mar)

Itinerary: Saturday, 15th March at the Wynn.

I'd booked a tour with 'Pink Jeep Tours' to visit the iconic Hoover Dam. I was picked up by Mark in an SUV with two middle-aged, pleasant couples already aboard, so we made for the 'Beltway', the 215, and passed by sprawling, and expanding, Henderson, where we turned onto the 93.

Population in the Las Vegas area is increasing by 5,000 each month. In Las Vegas itself, it's mainly casino/hotels development but that's putting housing pressure on places like Henderson. Las Vegas currently has about 135,00 hotel rooms and growing. The MGM Grand has 5,000 rooms supported by 10,000 employees. The group comprising the Venetian and the Palatzzo has 9,000 rooms. The year-round room occupancy rate is over 90%! Las Vegas (which is a major convention centre) has 32 million visitors arriving per year, with a further 6 million arriving by road. Las Vegas has the fifth largest education department in the U.S.A. with 340 schools.

When the Hoover Dam was built, they built a railway about 32 miles from Las Vegas and we meet up with the now disused route at the small casino/hotel called Railroad Pass. This dates from the '30s and is the proud holder of Gaming License Number 4.

Although the railway is disused, the State Department of Museums run a weekend museum at Boulder City Click for the website. Volunteers run a diesel-hauled service about 8 mies to Railroad Pass on Saturday and Sunday. As we entered Boulder City, I spotted the preservation headquarters with the usual rows of railway vehicles.

Boulder City was built to accommodate the workers on the Hoover Dam and a lot of the original buildings survive. The small town is a pleasant relief after Las Vegas and, for that reason, is now a desirable place. The accommodation was placed at Boulder City at least partly because the higher altitude was cooler and gave some relief from the unremitting summer heat at the Dam site. We carry on along the 93 which goes across the Dam en route to Phoenix. They're buiding a new road which will cross Black Canyon just South of the Dam on a new bridge. Following delays, this is now due to finish in a couple of years. About 18 months ago, 100 mp.h. winds in the canyon brought down some of the construction cranes but these have now been redesigned and replaced.

This tour was rather tightly timed so, after a 5-minute photostop on the Lake Mead side of the Dam,we went to the visitor centre to be registered for the tour. This started off in a film theatre with tiered seating and a huge, curved screen. There was the usual 10-minute orientation film which would have been great, except that the picture was awful, at least it was where I was (I was near the front, in the middle so I doubt it was much better elsewhere). Our Dam Guide then took us to the lift to descend the equivalent of 53 stories into the access tunnels cut into the rock. Then it all started to unravel, because his swipe card wouldn't activate the lift. Then we found it wouldn't activate the other lift, either. Then 3 or 4 staff got involved and it was some minutes before we managed to descend, by the expedient of somebody outside the lift calling the lift we were in. There were further delays at the bottom as prior groups were having similar problems ascending. Eventually, we ascended to the level of the Turbine Hall, where there's a viewing gallery at one end. By the time we regained the surface, there was barely time to take photos from the observation deck and check the souvenir shop, because our driver had arranged a meeting time. I commend the little book 'Construction of the Hoover Dam', published by the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation (ISBN 0-916122-51-4). The standard trip ends here, but I and the people I was with had opted for the 'Optional Upgrade' of a raft trip to view the Dam from water level on the downstream side. We drove a little way back towards Boulder City, parked at the raft company's base and transferred to their own personnel carrier. We crossed the main road and went through a set of electric gates which closed behind us. This was the Lower Portal Road, used during the construction of the dam. The road is steep and twisting to lose about 900 feet in a short journey. We parked by the river where a modern raft, featuring four large inflatable sponsons, awaited us. We had a very enjoyable ride in good weather, with only about a dozen passengers on a raft which can carry at least three times that number. Both the driver of the personnel carrier and the raft driver gave interesting insights into the area and the construction project.

Pictures of Las Vegas.
Pictures of the Hoover Dam.