Dam odyssey

I woke up in the southeastern desert of California, in the strange, baked settlement called Tecopa Hot Springs. And I was feeling … touristy. Not sure why, but sometimes that happens. Today’s mission took shape while I was driving here last night. First, head east to Hoover Dam via Highway 93. Why? Simply enough, I’ve never been. Seems as though any real Nevadan should be able to say, “Yes, I’ve stood on Hoover Dam and stared deeply into its mysterious concrete face.” So I wanted to check that off the list, once and for all. But there was a destination goal beyond that. About 90 miles past the dam lurks the quasi-weird yet spectacular new “Skywalk” built by Arizona’s Hualapai tribe. You’ve seen stories on this, I’m sure, where this horseshoe-shaped structure that sticks out over a ledge of the Grand Canyon has been built, and the folks then cautiously venture out on the glass-bottomed walkway and experience a slew of puckerings.

Hoover Dam is one of those places, one senses quickly, that’s always crawling with people, cars, buses and security. There’s rarely any “down” time there, being as it’s right in the way of a major highway (93) that takes vehicles directly over the crest of the dam itself. Yes, security still has a thick presence, as it has ever since 9/11, when it became suddenly obvious that it would really be a hassle if some kook with a car bomb made a big bad boom.

Next year, though, traffic on 93 will no longer travel on the road upon the dam, but will instead bypass it completely. Currently being built is a new stretch of highway, a bypass of the dam which will, upon completion, be known as the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, O’Callaghan being a former governor of Nevada, and Tillman being, yes, that Pat Tillman, the beloved Arizona Cardinal football player/patriot who died in a messy round of friendly fire while serving in Afghanistan.

This bridge is impressive. In fact, awesome. The view the traveler is going to have on this road is gonna knock his or her socks off. The highway will be built atop a giant arch which spans the Colorado River gorge just past the dam, and motorists in the middle of this four-lane span will find themselves approximately 900 feet above the river. It promises to be stunning. And quite probably a challenge for acrophobes. Begun in ’05, scheduled to be finished next year, at a cost of 160 mill.

Turning around while standing on the dam, looking north toward Lake Mead, the first thing that strikes the viewer is the lake level. God, it’s low. At least 100 feet down from its crest of a few years ago. It’s obvious—Las Vegas is one thirsty Gomorrah.

Next week—onward to the Skywalk. Along with about 659 buses, trucks, and helicopters.