When the Hoover Dam was completed in 1936, it was the world’s largest dam.
It was due to the scale of this project that Barret’s hometown of Boulder City was born. At the peak of construction, Boulder City had the highest population in the state of Nevada- 7,000 residents.
Most of the dam is closed off now to tourists as a result of the September 11th attacks. However, this isn’t the first time that security has been tightened. During WW2 sharpshooters were stationed above Hoover Dam and tour groups required military escorts.
There are currently two types of tours available- the Powerplant Tour and the Dam Tour. The Dam Tour has significantly fewer tickets available and was already sold out by the time Barret and I arrived (can’t make reservations), so we went on the Powerplant Tour.
Our tour guide had the enthusiasm of someone who had been repeating herself for the last ten years. Because of that, I channeled my focus elsewhere: on the dimly lit and roughly hewn passageways, on the corrugated plastic sheets that lined the roof to redirect the dripping groundwater, and on the powerplant viewing platform which resembled an art deco waiting room.
While it was interesting to see the inner workings for the first time, the best part of the visit was actually looking over the edge of the dam. That is when you are truly able to sense the incredible scale of the project.
It was also my first time at the dam since the completion of the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge back in 2010. At 1,900 feet in length, the bridge has the longest arch in the Western hemisphere and it is also the seventh highest bridge in the world. It’s sleek, minimalistic, and a perfect concrete compliment to the Hoover Dam.
The gift shop of course celebrated these architectural wonders with some dam fine products, Native American inspired knickknacks, and alien sunglasses.
From the Hoover Dam, the Colorado River courses south. The first blooms of civilization around the river are Laughlin and Bullhead City. On the Nevada side of the river, in Laughlin, casino resorts greet the lifeblood of the desert. Opposite the casinos, in Bullhead City, Arizona, is a Sam’s Club, McDonald’s, and Chili’s Bar and Grill.
Barret and I began our morning in Laughlin at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Theoretically the process should have been faster in a small town, but we quickly realized that was not necessarily true. A small town just means there is only one employee that knows all the locals by name.
“Braden, how’d you do?” The woman behind the counter asked a scruffy teen in sagging pants.
He scowled as he stood up from his seat. “I failed.”
“Well, you don’t have to wait in line. Just give me your card and come back tomorrow. Don’t worry, it’s a hard test.”
“It’s bullshit,” Braden mumbled on his way out. “I failed by one point. Bullshit.”
After our long morning, Barret and I stopped for lunch at the Riverside Resort. It must have been grasshopper season because hundreds of the papery insects were trampled into the welcome mats.
Just past the entrance was a stand selling frozen margaritas for $1.25. Beyond that, yellow and black signs hung from low ceilings and directed visitors toward Sunglasses and Bargain City (where all items are $7.77 and the seventh item is free).
As its names suggested, the Riverview Restaurant overlooked the Colorado River. The restaurant smelled faintly of cigarettes and the reverse side of everything had the history/philosophy of Don Laughlin- the founder of the town. “The customer, regardless of his or her pocketbook, is king here.”
Every five minutes a woman walked past selling Keno cards. The way she pronounced ‘Keno’ made it sound like she was saying ‘hello’.
On the way out of the casino, I noticed a TV in a display box outside the men’s bathroom. It was an interview with Don Laughlin. The whole place was beginning to feel a bit like Laughlin’s mausoleum.
After lunch we spent a few hours at Barret’s storage unit sweeping rat shit off of everything before heading back to Boulder City. Instead of taking the I95 the whole time, Barret made a detour through Christmas Tree Pass. The landscape was gorgeous and the smell of rain lingered amongst the creosote bushes. The bumpy dirt road put me to sleep, but Barret nudged me awake just before we passed the namesake ‘Christmas Trees’.
My friend once sent me a postcard from Laughlin back in 1992. She had gone on vacation with her family. After reading her perfectly rounded letters and evenly spaced greeting, I had wished that my family would also go there on vacation.
Twenty plus years later I feel a bit differently, however one thing has grown in certainty- the desert is a beautiful place and I love passing through it.
About: The Hover Dam
About: The Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge
How to get to the Riverside Resort: 1650 South Casino Drive, Laughlin NV 89029
About: Christmas Tree Pass