Sunday, February 21, 2010
My parents came for a visit last week. On Friday we took them to Hoover Dam. Or maybe they took us, since they paid for the tour tickets.
The tour began with a movie that looked like it had been made in the 1980's. To a triumphant soundtrack, it enumerated all the wonderful benefits of Hoover Dam—cropland protected from seasonal floods, the recreational opportunities at Lake Mead, hydroelectric power. When the film ended and the lights went up I leaned over and muttered in my twelve-year-old son’s ear, “That’s called propaganda.”
“I know. I’ve seen it before.”
We took an elevator five hundred feet down into the canyon wall. Deep underground, water seeped through the porous volcanic rock, leaving sparkling white mineral deposits on the damp walls. Our tour guide led us down a tunnel and under a “Fallout Shelter” sign. Fallout shelter? My science-fiction-writer brain began clicking. Fifty people are on a tour of Hoover Dam’s hydroelectric plant when a nuclear bomb strikes Nellis Air Force Base. Trapped in the fallout shelter five hundred feet below the surface, what will they do? Who will become their leader? Will they open the door for the next tour group even though there’s barely enough room for them as it is? Can they still use the fifty-year-old food and water stored down there during the Cold War? Will any of them leave to find family and friends in spite of the deadly radiation sifting down over the Las Vegas Valley? How will they pass the time for the next two weeks while they wait for the deadly radioactive isotopes to decay? Pictionary, anyone?
I admired the huge water pipes that feed the hydroelectric plant, and the massive spinning turbines in the power house. Then we took the elevator back up to the museum. My favorite part of the day was watching the time-lapse photography of the dam rising up from the canyon floor, like a weird grey fungus climbing the walls. In the museum they have a huge cement bucket like the ones that poured the dam, and a cut-away of an electricity-generating turbine you can walk right through. Wow! I also loved the big star chart in the terrazzo marble tiles surrounding the dedication monument. Maybe some distant future archeologists can decode the English language using that star chart.
The tour guide told us that the dam is expected to last for two-thousand years. At that time it won’t be the cement starting to break down, it will be the silt buildup behind the dam that will be a problem. I wondered what it would be like to come back in two-thousand years and see what is going on. I wonder if they have a plan to deal with it. I guess that doesn’t make sense. By then the technology may be so advanced, there will be ways to solve the problem we haven’t imagined yet. Or else so reversed that there’s nothing we can do.
While we walked along the top of the dam and admired the view down to the roiling river below, my dad told me that my very own great-grandfather had been here during the construction of the dam. Farming wasn’t so good up in Overton in the 1930's, so great-grandfather had come down to Boulder City and opened a dairy to supply the dam workers and their families with milk.
As we drove away, craning our necks to get a last look at the new bridge under construction high over the dam, I felt mighty proud to be a human being. We do things! Big things! I wondered if our nation could get together and do a big project like that now.
I looked up at the new bridge again, and answered yes.
Posted by Rebecca J. Carlson at 7:43 AM