Saturday, March 14, 2015

The dam tour

And more to the point, the damn internet here. But I digress.

When HH and I made the trip to Boulder City, Nevada a few weeks ago to see the dam, we wanted to take both tours offered - the workings of the dam and inside the dam itself. It was packed with people that day and all the inside-the-dam tickets were gone but we were still able to take the other tour. We have to stop going places on Saturday.

First we had to run the gauntlet of security, emptying pockets and going through a metal detector. HH lost his pocket knife, like he's going to overpower someone with a 2-inch blade, then, because of metal body parts, got his thrill of the day with a pat down. 

There were signs of no food! no drink! but I defiantly finished my Jolly Rancher right under the nose of the ticket seller and even got the Senior price when I told her I was within shouting distance of 62. 

Next, we were herded into a queue to wait for an elevator, and when it appeared we were ordered into it with instructions given in the bored and exasperated tones of someone who's said them 27 times that day, to line up side by side and don't leave spaces. It was a lesson in sardine-ism. Gosh, it was all the pleasures of flying and cost a fraction of the price!

Disclosure: any information in this post that sounds remotely intelligent and knowledgeable is from HH, Wikipedia, or the Bureau of Reclamation's website. Believe me, it's not from me. 
The elevator opened into a tunnel that led to a glassed-in space that overlooks the power station. 
The water rushes into the turbines, which revolve at an insane rate of speed, generating electricity in the coils which is then sent out by cable.
There are acres of terrazzo flooring here - more on that later down. The level we were on had beautiful inlaid Native American designs. It was too crowded to get any photos, though.

This is an armature, the central part of the dynamo that rotates within the magnetic field that comes from the red things on the cylinders in the photo above, which are magnets. It's been removed from the dynamo for repair or something. Not shown is the turbine that sits on the central shaft and which causes the armature to rotate. 

After the water works its magic of electricity, it is discharged out of pipes like this. [3/16: I have been corrected. That's an intake pipe.] That's all I know, and only because HH told me. Otherwise, I am ignorant to the utmost about things like this and don't care if I ever understand how it works.

This is the building we were in, seen from the top of the dam. HH has been here and seen water spewing out between the pillars under the building but water levels are so low these days that only exactly what is needed is let through the pipes and the discharge is minimal.

I'd heard you couldn't drive across the dam anymore, but there were plenty of cars going across. I have no idea what this bridge is for.

What I loved was the art deco styling throughout, including this railing in the visitor center.

Along the top of the dam are a couple of ticket-sales windows, now out of use, and two loos.

This is the lobby of the women's room. How about that color? The actual loo is upstairs. I ran up the stairs to see if it, too, was cool, but it was just a loo.

The visitor center and dam look like they're growing from the rock.

Another view of the dam. Those little towers are the two restrooms and the ticket offices. 

Gordon Kaufmann, the supervising architect to the Bureau of Reclamation, was brought in to redesign the exterior of the dam from its original Gothic design. He streamlined it into elegant Art Deco.

Allen True, a Denver artist, assisted Kaufmann with interior designs and color. True was responsible for one of the dam's most distinctive motifs - the Southwestern Indian designs in the terrazzo floors. Using such sources as an Acoma bowl and Pima basket, True merged Native American geometric concepts with Art Deco design. Many of the Indian designs were based on centrifugal themes, which related to the turbines in the power plant. 

Two Italian immigrant brothers, Joseph and John Martina, installed the all the terrazzo floors in 1936 and 1937 with the help of 30 countrymen. John served as contractor for the job and worked with Reclamation officials. Joe, barely able to speak English when they bid on the job, was in charge of laying the floors. The Martina brothers contracted to install the terrazzo for 48 cents per square foot, for a total of only $51,718. Here is an example of the Native American design on the floor of the lobby in the women's loo.

There are four of the towers, below, altogether; they filter the water going into the turbines. Kaufmann carried Art Deco sculpturing to the turrets rising from the dam face, and clock faces on the intake towers show the time in Nevada and Arizona; the state line goes through the middle of the dam. The two states are in different time zones, but as Arizona does not observe Daylight Saving Time, the clocks agree for more than half the year.

Arizona indeed does not observe Daylight Saving Time, but the Navajo Nation, which has trust lands in Arizona, does. It's fun, if you are easily entertained, to watch the time on your cell phone change back and forth, back and forth, when you go on and off tribal land. 

Across the road from the dam is a memorial plaza. Norwegian-born, naturalized American sculptor Oskar J.W. Hansen designed many of the sculptures on and around the dam. His works include the Monument of Dedication plaza and a plaque to memorialize the workers killed, a couple of photos below. The Wikipedia article is not clear on whether he designed the two thirty-foot tall bronze figures, called Winged Figures of the Republic, each formed in a continuous pour. To put the large bronzes in place without marring the polished bronze surface, they rested on ice and were guided into position as the ice melted.

The memorial to those who died building the dam is another of Hansen's works. There were 112 deaths associated with the building of the dam. The first was J.G. Tierney, a surveyor who drowned while looking for the ideal site of the dam, and the last was his son, Patrick, who died 13 years to the day later.

Another memorial to those who died. Not included in the official number of 112 were those whose deaths were attributed to pneumonia. Workers alleged that this diagnosis was a cover for death from carbon monoxide poisoning, brought on by the use of gasoline-fueled vehicles in the diversion tunnels, and a classification used by Six Companies, the structural architect, to avoid paying compensation claims. The site's diversion tunnels frequently reached 140°F, enveloped in thick plumes of vehicle exhaust gases. Forty-two workers were recorded as having died from pneumonia; none were listed as having died from carbon monoxide poisoning. No deaths of non-workers from pneumonia were recorded in Boulder City during the construction period.

Surrounding the base of the monument is a terrazzo floor embedded with a star map. The map depicts the Northern Hemisphere sky at the moment of President Roosevelt's dedication of the dam. This was intended to help future astronomers, if necessary, calculate the exact date of dedication. The dam, after all, is not that far from Area 51.

Bas relief plaques are inlaid into the plaza's surface, one for each of the seven states that fall within the Colorado River's basin.

More beautiful terrazzo work at the base of the flag pole.

This statue is probably of a "high scaler." While suspended from the top of the canyon with ropes, high-scalers climbed down canyon walls and removed loose rock with jackhammers and dynamite. Falling objects were the most common cause of death on the dam site; the high scalers' work thus helped ensure worker safety. 

The construction site became a magnet for tourists; the high scalers were prime attractions and showed off for the watchers. They received considerable media attention, with one worker dubbed the "Human Pendulum" for swinging co-workers (and, at other times, cases of dynamite) across the canyon.To protect themselves against falling objects, some high scalers took cloth hats and dipped them in tar, allowing them to harden. When workers wearing such headgear were struck hard enough to inflict broken jaws, but sustained no skull damage, Six Companies ordered thousands of what initially were called "hard boiled hats" (later hard hats) and strongly encouraged their use.

There's a lot to the Hoover Dam story. The websites I linked to above tell it in much more detail and are interesting to read. You'll see exactly where I plagiarized from. Is it plagiarism if I give credit?


Thought of the day: 

This morning I came, I saw and I was conquered, as everyone would be who sees for the first time this great feat of mankind. - Franklin D. Roosevelt, at the dedication of the dam on September 30, 1935 

Friday, March 13, 2015

It's coming!

I promise there will be a post, for the three of you who watch for it. The internet again, combined with the Google blogging platform not working as it should, has kept a post in limbo for several days.

I will have to break down and drive down the road to the visitor center where the wifi is better, and see if I can make it work. Hang in there.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Keane Wonder Mine

The internet continues to be atrocious. Hours can go by without our being able to get a connection. I have a real bone to pick with the Park Service about this. My argument is that the internet is a utility. We're not told we might or might not have electricity, or that the water supply will be overloaded on weekends or when folks get home from work or back to their campsites after hiking. I've heard the lack of infrastructure argument and say hogwash. It's not like the internet was invented in the last decade. Let the leadership in Washington, San Francisco, and Denver poke along on dial-up speed if they're lucky, and then maybe something will be done for the rank and file in the boondocks. Rant over for now.

Going on three months at Death Valley and I finally got to go to an orientation class. The class is only a couple of years old and is only offered twice a year, so actually I'm pretty lucky that I was able to go at all.

The four-day orientation covers all kinds of subjects like who does what, how can I get something done, and where are things. We also get out in the park, escorted by someone particularly knowledgeable, and one day the abandoned mines expert led a field trip to the Keane Wonder Mine. It is usually closed to the public because of unstable land (due to huge areas underground having been excavated and the remaining ceilings held up only with the occasional pillar), and because of traces of cyanide, mercury, and lead that were used for extracting gold from the ore or were byproducts. Why the park thought we wouldn't fall into an unsupported tunnel or breathe cyanide blown around on the wind, I don't know, but am glad no one thought about it too much.

Read the Wikipedia article about the mine. It's brief but interesting.

Keane was one of the most profitable gold mines in the Valley but played out rather quickly. It's noted for its one and a half mile aerial tramway that carried ore down the mountain to a processing station closer to the road. When I first read about the Keane structures being stabilized in the 1980s, in the abandoned mine lands documents I've been processing (up to more than 27 linear feet of boxes so far!), I was already planning a trip, especially because I knew HH would love to see the operation. Then somewhere else I learned acres and acres of land were closed after all.

We were all blindfolded on the trip out to the mine, except for the drivers who took us there, duh. Some of the group elected to stay behind with the cars when Jeremy, the mines expert, led a hike up the mountain from the base of the tramway, below. Being a never-say-die kind of person, I dragged myself along, ignoring the youngsters who were skipping along like mountain goats. We hiked to the top structure seen in this photo. I wasn't first up there but can also say I wasn't last, either.

The cables are still in place, and an ore car or two. There's one on the right of the structure in front, below, not bad for hard-used equipment that's more than 100 years old. Somewhere I read that the Keane is listed on the National Register, or that it's eligible to be listed, but I can't find verification of that now because of the lousy internet.

The view of the valley made the hike up worth it.

It was a gorgeous day, not too warm and not much wind, so we came back unpoisoned.

On our way back down, someone spotted the chuckwalla below. I'd never heard of this animal before I saw photos of it when I was working on all the slides on the North Rim last summer, and had never seen one in person before. This one was about a foot long, placid as can be, enjoying the sunshine as much as we were. What camouflage! Chuckwallas are known for their loose folds of skin and can be referred to as the Shar-pei of the lizard world.

That was a joke about being blindfolded. You knew that, right? It's on all the maps.


Thought of the day:

The battles that count aren't the ones for gold medals. The struggles within yourself - the invisible, inevitable battles inside all of us - that's where it's at. - Jesse Owens

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

My bucket list's B-list

This would have been up a couple of days ago but for the lack of internet. It took at least two hours just to upload the photos.

HH and I went to Boulder City, Nevada last Friday to spend the night in a hotel that's on the National Register, the Boulder Dam Hotel. It was built in 1933 to accommodate official visitors during the construction of Boulder (now Hoover) Dam, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Amazingly enough, I didn't take one photo there. Maybe next time.

HH and I had diverging destinations in mind for this trip. He wanted to see Hoover Dam, especially its innards, and I wanted to see the Neon Museum and go to Costco. Ha ha ha, you say. Costco!? You bet, it's one of my favorite places because nowhere else can you get Costco pizza, a huge bag of frozen chicken wings, and still-warm French bread all in one spot.

Ever since I heard about the Neon Museum in Las Vegas, years and years ago, it's been on my Bucket List's B-list - not important enough to make a special trip for, but if I was in the neighborhood, it wasn't to be missed.

The Hoover Dam photos will be coming soon, but this is my journal so I get to decide what goes up first, and it's the Neon Museum today.

The museum is a nonprofit organization exhibiting iconic Las Vegas signs. One might expect lots of neon from a neon museum, but we were surprised to find most signs were made with incandescent bulbs.

The letters and other images that comprise the museum's sign mimic those of historic provenance. The N is from the Golden Nugget; the E from Caesar's Palace, the O from Binion's Horseshoe; and the final N from the Desert Inn. The stars are from the Stardust.

Visits to the 2-acre boneyard are available by guided tours only, which makes sense when the signs are at ground level and within touching distance. There are about 150 signs here and more in another lot that's not open to visitors.

One of the first views is of the mix of symbols from different casinos.

 Not all signs are in good repair.

The script is from Moulin Rouge, and the stars from the Stardust.

The walkways are narrow so we were strung out like ducklings in a row.

 This sign from Binion's Horseshoe resulted in my favorite photo of the day, below.

It looks like a school of fish. Well, I think so.

Here's a good neon-tube example. It's a yucca blossom, formed freehand. The sign below it is made of metal cut in yucca-leaf spikes and of neon tubes formed to resemble leaves. Our guide pointed out the different colors of the tubing in the leaves. The varying colors are due to the discovery that the metals used to color the glass originally were on the unhealthy side and when a repair was made, a different metal was used instead.

The visitor center, which I also neglected to get a photo of, is the former La Concha Motel lobby, built in 1961 in mid-century modern design. Donated to the museum to save it from demolition, it was cut into pieces, moved across the city, and reassembled on-site. From the museum's website:
A popular name for this type of architecture is “Googie,” which describes a style that references a time when the United States was enthusiastically anticipating the future. The La Concha lobby exhibits the Googie style with its exaggerated shell form, and thin, concrete structure seemingly held up by large plates of glass.
The Googie style of architecture thrived in the 1950s and early 1960s. It began as commercial architecture designed to make the most of strip shopping centers and other roadside locations. It fit the needs of the new California "car culture" and the dreams of the even newer space age. Googie has also been known as Populuxe, Doo-Wop, Coffee Shop Modern, Jet Age, Space Age and Chinese Modern. It is also sometimes identified as part of a larger overall movement of space-age industrial design.
The motel's sign follows the lines of the building itself in swoops and dips.

 Sassy Sally's.

A short loop detours from the final stretch.

A close-up of a skull from Treasure Island that, according to our guide, can be seen clearly on Google Earth.

A marvelous exhibit of the Stardust typography and stars behind.

 There are a lot of stars.

Aladdin's lamp. Silly me, I thought it was a teapot, thinking of the Disney ride with teacups. It's funny how the brain misfires.

Tropicana and Silver Slipper signs.

The silver slipper that once rotated in front of the casino now stands motionless across from the visitor center.

The Frontier sign is low key for Vegas.

I think the Sahara sign was my favorite.

There are signs for casinos, coffee shops, restaurants, and motels, but only one that I know of from a car wash. What's interesting about this one is that it incorporates channeling, a technique that places metal ridges around some of the tubes, making them more distinct when lit.

The museum offers a nighttime tour as well, to see the half-dozen signs that illuminate. It's on the pricy side and we didn't go, but did take a drive down the Strip to get to Las Vegas' cathedral so I could take photos of the windows. I'm sure they were gorgeous when the church was built in 1963, but it now stands in the shadow of an overpowering casino. I'm still trying to resurrect their original beauty.

Thought of the day:

A little bit of this town goes a very long way. - Hunter S. Thompson