Lake Mead & Hoover Dam
Location: Border of Arizona/Nevada. 32 miles/45 minutes East of Las Vegas (I-515 South to 93 South)
Hint: For a more picturesque drive take 147/166 East to 93 South. It’s only slightly longer at 43 miles.
On a previous trip, I had been to Hoover Dam and taken the tour down into the bowels of the beast. My better half lacked this experience so when we drove from Los Angeles (just under five hours away) to Las Vegas I figured we may as well visit this massive structure -- right after I lost $50 in sports book, found 99 cent Margaritas and a $3.99 steak special.
[Note: It took us five hours to drive from L.A., but the return home was another story. As the weekend starts to wind down, the traffic amps up. It took us nearly seven hours to get home.]
We were greeted in the parking lot (on the Nevada side) by friendly ground squirrels, and that’s when my better half revealed that she has a touch of claustrophobia -- and in no way was she going down into that over-sized death trap. But, she wanted to walk from Nevada to Arizona in 10 minutes so we continued.
Under the parking structure is a small snack shack serving the usual fare and bathrooms. But, keep your eyes peeled as you stroll down the sidewalk. On your left is small plaque. It’s dedicated to "Nig", the dam dog. He hung around the construction site for several years, befriending workers, until February 21st, 1941 when a truck backed over the sleeping black shepherd.
Hoover Dam is 721 feet high and 1,244 feet long, one of the world’s largest dams. It was built between 1931 and 1936, and was originally known as the Boulder Dam (it’s very close to Boulder City, Nevada), but was later changed to Hoover Dam (after the 31st President). As you walk between states look over the edge of the guard rail, the concrete seems to go down forever.
As we were walking back, we changed sides so that we could now look at the lake. Lake Mead was formed by the building of Hoover Dam and is the largest reservoir in the U.S. The blue water extends 112 miles and holds approximately 28.5 million acre feet of water. And, that’s when I saw a very noticeable line of white rock surrounding the lake. I hadn’t noticed this five years earlier.
Curious, I asked a park ranger who was walking by. He explained that was the difference in water levels. The white rock is newly exposed to the elements so it hasn’t weathered like the darker rock above. It seems that Lake Mead, the largest reservoir is also the reservoir being drained the fastest. The water irrigates 650,000 acres in Southern California and Arizona, and we sell water to Mexico to irrigate 400,000 acres. The line of white rock was just the water level dropping over the last five years, and he said mildly, "You should’ve seen the lake in 1997. It was nearly double what’s here now."
Still deeply disturbed by this information, when we returned to our hotel I Googled further into the matter. In February 2008, two researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography released a startling report: at current water use and climate shift, the lake could be bone dry by 2021, and unable to produce hydro-electric power by as early as 2017. And it seems we only have ourselves to blame. The average American consumes 159 gallons of water daily while more than half of the world’s population lives on just 25 gallons.
That night, as we headed out to what we heard was the "best" buffet in Las Vegas, I started counting the fountains of the casinos, and gave up when we hit the Bellagio. All of that water (22 million gallons), in an eight-acre man made lake, just shooting up into the air, 460 feet, to various music, lit up by multi-colored lights. (Note: The Bellagio lake is replenished every year with twelve million gallons of fresh water.)
Did You Know? This enormous lake was named for Elwood Mead, the commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from 1924-1936.