After lunching in Utah, we crossed the border into Nevada. Too early to check into our hotel, we actually drove straight through Las Vegas and headed towards the Hoover Dam. Our route took us past Lake Mead and Mr Pict decided to be spontaneous and head to the beach. The air temperature was at least 110 degrees and the water temperature of the lake was apparently 83 but the kids were up for the idea so I went with the flow.
Lake Mead was created by the construction of the Hoover Dam and is apparently the largest reservoir by volume in the country. I suppose that is what is required if you are going to have people build cities in the desert. The majority of its water comes from snow melt and, strangely enough, it experiences a lot of drought and has not been at capacity for over 30 years. Of course, if the water level dropped too low then the Dam would cease to function so all sorts of engineering has gone into preventing that from happening. An awful lot of resources go into allowing cities to continue existing in the desert.
Lake Mead might be a National Park but it definitely lacked the facilities and polish of all the other National Parks we had been to. It reminded me a lot of the lake we had visited in West Virginia last year. That wasn’t a good thing. The surface was so bad I thought our car axle might break from driving on such uneven roads and then the beach was rubbly, grubby, muddy, and messy. Nevertheless, the kids quickly changed into their swimming clothes and merrily galloped into the water. Mr Pict and I stayed on the shore and did not even paddle our feet. It just looked so gross. Our feral kids didn’t seem to mind the mudlark quality of their experience.
When we reached the Hoover Dam, the air felt like a constant blast from a hot oven. It was pretty grim. Our kids actually had zero interest in visiting the Hoover Dam. None whatsoever. When I last visited the Hoover Dam, it was possible for tourists to drive across it. That is no longer permitted, for understandable security reasons, so wasn’t a compromise we could offer the kids. Instead we had to park up and then walk along the crest of the Dam. Trying to persuade the kids that they wanted to spend some time in the baking, parched heat to see a work of engineering they had no inclination to see was a bit of an ordeal to say the least. Our parenting is a benevolent dictatorship rather than a democracy, however, so we prized them out of the sanctuary of the air conditioned car and forced them to see the Dam whether they appreciated it now or later.
The Hoover Dam was famously built during the Great Depression and put thousands of people to work (and killed about a hundred of them). It created the aforementioned Lake Mead and generates the electricity that allows for cities to exist in the middle of the desert. It also created nearby Boulder City, founded to house all the workers. It was a massive undertaking and an amazing feat of engineering involving much engineering but incredibly it was completed two years ahead of schedule. It is possible to view the Hoover Dam as symbolising good and bad aspects of America: it is large and impresses through its scale; it serves a practical function rather than just being for show; it is all about power; it is apsirational, given that it allowed for the creation of a city in a location where a city had no business being built; it was massively challenge yet was accomplished; and it brought people together in a time of terrible desperation; on the other hand, however, the environmental damage was and continues to be pretty appalling; its creation was disastrous for rural communities, particularly indigenous people, because freedom for some is so often at the cost of freedom for others.
The kids remained resolutely uninterested in the Hoover Dam. We were not as fussed about them being impressed with it as we had been about them seeing the Grand Canyon but it is another one to file under “One day they may be grateful”. Their reaction was more a desultory, “Yeah, it’s big. Can we get out of this heat now?” The younger boys did perk up when we happened across a memorial to and grave of a dog who had been the mascot of the Dam. He accompanied the workers everywhere, he had a packed lunch each day, and chased ring-tailed cats in his free time. Tragically, one day a worker accidentally drove over the dog as he slept and that was the end of the beloved mascot’s life.