Saturday, June 25, 2011

Day 4: Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, and Zion National Park

We ate breakfast at our hotel--Arizona Charlie's Hotel and Casino--and then began our drive toward Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam. After a less-than-thorough search of our belongings by security guards, we entered the visitor center at Hoover Dam, viewed a film on the history of the dam, and walked through a tour of the dam's inner workings which took us out onto the dam itself.

Around 1920 the government was looking for ways to tame the Colorado River and boost employment during the Great Depression. Herbert Hoover approved the dam in 1921. Once approved, the "Boulder Canyon Project" was the largest single contract at that time. The entire structure was completed by 3500 workers in 5 years (2 years ahead of schedule). The workers made $4 a day working long hours with little to no time off. There is a myth that some workers died on the job and are buried in the concrete of the dam; however, the bodies of the 96 people that died working on then job were all recovered. Up until 1942, the dam was called Boulder Dam but was then named Hoover Dam. It supplies flood control, reliable water supply, and electricity to several states in the region. In 1985 a huge flood in Colorado tested the stability of the dam and its spill ways, which held up as the water rose 6 ft from the top. The dam was also built to withstand an 8.5 earthquake but has only experienced a 5.

We then went to a great scenic lookout of the beautiful lake mead. Seeing a body of water--a brilliantly blue one no less--after spending two days in a barren desert, felt incredibly novel. The lonely, almost intimidating feel of Death Valley was now behind us.

After Lake Mead, we crossed the Arizona border and took a great scenic drive through a winding water gap. Interestingly, a water gap doesn't necessarily have to have water in it but has to have been caused by the erosion of a river.

Heading toward Zion National Park, we even saw some bison on a pasture on the side of the road!

Crossing the Utah border, we were Zion bound! The brilliant red cliffs began towering over us as we entered the park. Between the rocks and the conifers, Zion reminds me of a green and red tunnel with a blue skylight--at least thats what it looks like from the bottom. Sadly, we did not go to the top of Zion, but I will just have to come back some day and hike the Angel Trail. Nonetheless, the tranquil, sleepy Virgin River, which runs through the bottom, was a sight not to be forgotten. We saw this park via a tour shuttle, getting out for short breaks to look around. Like our coyote at Death Valley, the squirrels here are unfortunately too accustomed to humans (although very cute). Again, I got my passport stamped at the Visitor's Center.

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