Hoover Dam & Laughlin: Week 222

Polaroid of the Hoover Dam taken from the bypass bridge: Nevada

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.

Inside one of the tunnels at the Hoover Dam: Nevada

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.

Hoover Dam Powerplant: Nevada

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.

Viewing platform at the Hoover Dam Powerplant: Nevada

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.

View looking down the Hoover Dam: Nevada

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.

Alien glasses at the giftshop: Hoover Dam, Nevada

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.”

Riverside Resort matchbook: Laughlin, Nevada

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.

Desert landscape: Christmas Tree Pass, Nevada

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’.

Desert Christmas Trees: Christmas Tree Pass, Nevada

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.

Cross-shaped cactus: Christmas Tree Pass, Nevada

About: The Hover Dam

One of the offices at Hoover Dam: Nevada

About: The Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

How to get to the Riverside Resort: 1650 South Casino Drive, Laughlin NV 89029

About: Laughlin

About: Christmas Tree Pass

Sign outside the Colorado Belle: Laughlin, Nevada

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Australian National Maritime Museum: Week 199

Stern of the HMB Endeavour: Sydney, Australia

Barret and I have been working on a graphic novel together and when I decided a few chapters would take place on a ship, I realized that I don’t know very much at all about life at sea. It also didn’t help that the kind of visual information I needed was very specific and very elusive.

At Barret’s suggestion I made a research appointment at the library of the Australian National Maritime Museum and mentioned to the librarian in advance that I was researching diagrams for a 300-tonne merchant ship from the 1820s. While she did not find info on that specific kind of ship, she had pulled a lot of great material for me. I was very happy with the information, but I was still having a hard time visualizing what that kind of ship looked like.

How did people move through it? How was it set up? What was the scale of the interior? If I wasn’t sure about these answers, how could I write the storyline and how would Barret be able to illustrate it?

While a library is a great place to start a project, sometimes the only way to nut things out is to get into the field. That’s why I went back a few days later to visit the tall ships at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Crew's hammocks aboard the HMB Endeavour: Sydney, Australia

The one I was most interested in, the HMB Endeavour, is also one of the most historically accurate maritime vessels. It is set up as if the crew had just anchored and gone ashore. While the ship predates the period I was researching by about 50 years, there was still a lot to gain from walking the deck and through the confined quarters.

One of the things that struck me was just how much rope was needed to operate the ship. It draped around every protrusion on the deck and I imagine it presented quite a tricky work environment- especially in bad weather. Being from the digital age, it was quite easy to romanticize this kind of travel when viewing the ship in the calm waters of Darling Harbour.

Crew's toilet aboard the HMB Endeavour: Sydney, Australia

However, once you look a little bit closer you notice things like the crew’s toilet. I’m not sure if there was another located within the ship, but the one at the bow of the deck was a wooden platform with a hole. Aside from absolutely no privacy, a shared tasseled rope served in place of toilet paper.

Then, with the help of the stationed tour guides, you come to realize the things that would be impossible to accurately recreate: the sweaty stench of a 56-strong crew, the rudimentary healthcare, and the disappointing taste of stale food and stale water.

The crew of the HMAS Vampire, an Australian destroyer ship commissioned in 1959, might not have contended with the same issues as the crew of the Endeavour, but it feels a bit different to romanticize about laminate tables and commissaries stocked with Crunchie Nuggets and Dunhill cigarettes.

Mural inside the dining room of the HMAS Vampire: Sydney, Australia

Officer's dining room aboard the HMAS Vampire: Sydney, Australia

The surfaced HMAS Onslow inside the Darling Harbour: Sydney, Australia

When it came to the HMAS Onslow, a submarine commissioned in 1969, the first thing a visitor noticed when stepping aboard was the lack of space. Bunk beds lined the hall and the lowest bed looked more suited to store shoes than a sleeping man.

Officer's quarters on the HMAS Onslow: Sydney, Australia

The quarters of the ranking officers were not much to get excited over, unless of course you were sleeping on one of the aforementioned bunk beds. The one thought that kept crossing my mind was how much work it would have taken to draft the construction plans- every square inch of space had to be accounted for.

The Captain's bathroom on the James Craig: Sydney, Australia

The other thought that crossed my mind was that I’d much rather deal with rats and damp bedding than with the claustrophobic nature of a submarine. Especially if I could have a bathroom like those of a Captain’s wife (circa 1874).

Operation room of the HMAS Vampire: Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney

After viewing the utilitarian style of 1768 and the 1960s, it’s easy to see why the HMB Endeavour captures people’s hearts- the creaking floorboards, the skylights, the excitement of traveling by the whim of nature. Paying passengers today can even sail aboard it to places like Tasmania.

You just don’t feel the exhilaration of being out at sea inside the Bat Cave of the HMAS Vampire. Seeing the inside of the operation room also made me glad that I am not writing a military thriller- you really need to have a background in the Navy to even begin to understand the complex operations on board a ship like that. I’ll stick to describing poop platforms and toilet paper tassels.

Operation Room of the HMAS Vampire: Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney

How to get to the Australian National Maritime Museum: Darling Harbour- 2 Murray Street, Sydney 2000

About: The HMB Endeavour

About: The HMAS Vampire

About: The HMAS Onslow

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