January 15, 2011

1/12/2011 – Lake Mead NRA

Lake Mead National Recreation Area – think Hoover Dam and the new Colorado River Bridge.
When George and I were in Las Vegas on vacation in November of 2008, we toured the dam power plant.  They were still in construction stages for the new bridge—they had started on both Arizona and Nevada sides, and you could see the beginnings of the arches, but they weren’t joined yet.  HUGE cranes all over the place.  Still really impressive even then.
Just before we left on this trip, I got the November Sunset magazine in the mail.  I was a bit busy and preoccupied then, so just stashed it with the stuff to take with us in the trailer.  Eventually I picked it up and found an article about the opening of the completed bridge.  We decided after looking at the pictures that we’d need to go back to the dam and check it out.
For those of you who didn’t grow up in Las Vegas in the late ‘50s/early 60’s (yes, children, that’s 1960—and before many of you were born!), there was a distinct separation between the city of Las Vegas and the towns of Henderson and Boulder City.  Now it’s all so run together you can’t see a difference between LV and Henderson as you head out the Boulder Highway.  There’s still a little bit of desert between Henderson and Boulder City (“The City that built the Dam”), but the bypass doesn’t take you through town at 15 mph like it used to.  Progress, I guess. 
The water in Lake Mead is lower than it's been in 40 years—a couple of years of less than normal snowfall in the mountains has really affected it.
We stopped at the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge Plaza, not because we knew what we were doing, but because it looked like a place we could park the truck and take pictures.  Turned out that’s the way to get to the bridge.  There’s a long series of back-and-forth ramps to get to the bridge deck if you don’t want to take the stairs like we did. 

They built a big wide pedestrian walkway next to the west-bound lanes of the highway.  Although you can’t see the dam while driving (barrier walls are too high), those who walk across get breathtaking views of it.  The walls are chest-high on George, so that made it high enough that I didn’t worry about the height.  Used to be the only way you could only see the dam from the downriver side as you were driving.  Now you can see it full-on and it’s way cool! 
 There are plaques along the walkway that explain how the bridge was built.  My favorite was the gantt chart for the project schedule.  And, of course, there’s one in the middle where the Nevada-Arizona state line is. 
Once we got to the far end of the bridge, we had to turn around and go back.  Then we drove on down and crossed the dam.  Surprisingly there’s not many places to even get a good view of the new bridge, but we tried.  The road no longer goes farther than a parking lot where you can turn around.  That makes Hoover dam a side trip now, not the main road.  George thinks the truckers must be very happy.

There were some cute little chipmunky critters (not gophers, George!) where we stopped for lunch before we went back across the dam.  Of course, we did the requisite drive across the new bridge to milepost 2 in Arizona, then turned around and went back to Vegas.  We saw bighorn sheep on the way.
More pictures of the bridge & dam

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