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Dam, That’s Big!

August 27, 2017

With our second day of Grand Canyon adventure scuttled by torrential rain (in the desert!), we skipped ahead on Thursday to our next stop, the Hoover Dam.

To get there, we had to drive a chunk of Route 66 to Kingman, Arizona, before heading north on a different highway. It felt weird driving on a long stretch of the exact same road we drove on our Route 66 road trip three years ago, seeing the same signs and businesses again.

The last time we were in Kingman, we had fun visiting an alpaca farm, and Sam wanted to take this opportunity to stop buy and pet the alpacas, but the farm was closed for a private event, so on we drive to the Hoover Dam.

Hoover Dam

Let me just start by saying that visiting the Hoover Dam is very different in real life from how it’s portrayed in the movies. In the movies, the protagonist is the only person there, and he/she drives right over it and then stops in the middle to have a conversation/argument/proposal/moment of introspection. Absolutely none of that is possible in real life.

First, the Hoover Dam is not on the way to anywhere. You have to get off the main highway and then drive for three miles down an extremely windy road in order to get there. Then you have to stop at a security checkpoint and get waved through once they’re reasonably certain that your car is not a bomb. When you finally get to the dam, there’s a very slow-moving line of cars driving across it, as well as about 1,000 pedestrians wandering around, taking photos, and going into the wrong bathroom (I’ll get to that later). The bottom line is that there are no private moments here. This is not a place for introspection or major relationship milestones, it’s a power plant that’s popular with tourists.

[Most people learned in high school that the Hoover Dam was built during the Depression, commissioned by President Hoover not necessarily to create temporary jobs for those who built it but in fact to use the Colorado River’s energy (the same energy that carved the Grand Canyon) to produce huge amounts of electricity, thus increasing supply and lowering costs for struggling Americans. It had the side benefit of creating Lake Mead, a massive lake that provides year-round enjoyment in the form of an oasis in the middle of a desert, but that was a byproduct. The dam is an engineering marvel, and it is beautiful in an industrial sort of way, but it has always been first and foremost a power plant.]

Also, the Hoover Dam is not free. You can drive across for free, but if you want to get out of your car, you’ve got to pay $10 to park. Want to visit the Visitor Center? That’s another $10 per person. Want a tour? The power plat tour is $30 per person, but if you want to include the actual dam in your tour, that’s $50. You might say that the place is dam expensive.

I actually did say that while we were there. One of the best parts of our visit was the opportunity to make “dam” puns all day. As soon as we got there, Sam announced, “I need to pee. Where’s the dam bathroom?!” We joked about the dam view, the dam tourists, and any other dam thing we could think of. We had a pretty great dam time.

Originally we had planned to take the full tour, but it was such a dam ripoff that we decided to just wander around on top. My favorite part (other than all the dam jokes we made) was the clock towers. The dam straddles the border between Arizona and Nevada, and on each side there’s a tower displaying the time in that state.

As you can tell if you look closely at these photos, the time in both states is the same, which kind of defeats the purpose of the separate clocks. The two states are in different time zones, but Arizona doesn’t believe in Saving Daylight, so for about seven months each year, it’s the same time on both ends of the dam.

As we walked across the dam enjoying the views, we noticed something else interesting. A largely unknown but almost as impressive part of the scenery is a massive arch bridge that spans the Colorado River and perfectly frames the desert mountains behind it. In fact, you have to drive over the bridge to get to the dam. Standing on each one provides a stunning view of the other.

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By the time we finished walking across the dam and back again, I needed the dam bathroom myself. Lucky for me, there is a shockingly ornate public bathroom built right into the dam.

Hoover Dam Men's Room

Notice the gold door and the Art Deco sign outside

Hoover Dam Bathroom

This is what you see when you walk through that gold door: black marble, and more gold

Now would be a good time to point out the two women coming out of the men’s room. Clearly they did not notice the sign outside that says “MEN’S ROOM,” or the white lettering on the black wall that says “MEN’S ROOM,” so as they were walking up those stairs and I was walking down, I said to them, “This is the men’s room.” They ignored me, so I said louder, “This is the dam men’s room!” They ignored me again, and as they walked into the men’s room they exclaimed in disbelief, “Oh! This is the men’s room!”

Dam idiots.

When we stopped in the gift shop, I dared Sarah to tell the guy at the counter that he had a nice dam store. She did, and then asked him how many times he’s heard that joke. To our surprise, he earnestly said she was the first one to say it. So I guess it was a dam good joke.

Anyway, once we finally got our car out of the dam parking lot, I decided that we needed to drive over the dam. It is a road trip, after all, and we’ve driven some pretty extraordinary places. Driving over the tallest dam in the world seemed like something that we had to do.

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Before heading to Vegas, we had one little stop to make. We couldn’t visit the alpaca farm back in Kingman, so we did the next best thing: we stopped in at Alpaca Imports, the world’s largest alpaca store. They sell products made from alpaca wool, not live alpacas as the store’s name might suggest, but Sam and I each bought a pair of alpaca socks we’re very excited about, and we quickly switched from “dam” jokes to “alpaca” jokes. (“Are your feet cold? Alpaca pair of socks.”)

Less than an hour later clear skies had replaced the rain clouds and the towering casinos of the Las Vegas Strip had replaced the desert scenery.

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