Water in the Desert

20180103_112924.jpgWhat a great week of camping we’ve had. It seems wrong that anyone could visit the Las Vegas area without making a trip to check out Hoover Dam. And for us, that means camping at Boulder Beach Campground, near Boulder City.  A view of Lake Mead, a bike path that eventually goes directly to Hoover Dam, and (generally) peaceful rustic camping make this a great spot to hole up for a few days.20180103_102104.jpgHoover Dam is a real international tourist attraction – at least half of the folks there were non-English speakers. All come to gape at the marvel of the Dam, which is more than 80 years old. It’s hard to believe that this was all engineered and constructed in the pre-computer era. This photo taken from the Tillman Bridge (shown in the shadow).20180103_1323201509468320.jpg20180103_121124.jpgA construction model in the Visitor Center shows how it’s made of enormous concrete blocks. 20180103_124043.jpgAt the base, it’s 660 feet thick, tapering to just 45 feet at the top, which is 726 feet high. More than 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete, made onsite, were used in its construction. And perhaps, most astonishing, it was completed under budget and two years ahead of schedule. It’s an absolute marvel of engineering. As you walk across thee top, you actually cross from Pacific Time into Mountain Time. Two states!

One of the things we really love about this site though, is the bike ride from the campground into the Dam, via the bike trail that connects to the Historic Railroad Trail. 20180103_140747.jpgBuilt in the 1930s, it features six gigantic tunnels, blasted through solid rock, used by the trains which carried supplies and equipment to the massive construction site. Although the tracks have long been removed, the tunnels are just rough rock sides (although one has been reinforced with timber, as shown in the above photo). 20180103_112924.jpgIt gradually climbs, winding around great views of Lake Mead, until it deposits us near the top of the parking garage, where a couple of bike racks are conveniently located. Uphill all the way to the dam, and a wonderful downhill ride all the way home. It doesn’t get any better than this. Experiences like this are what keep us on the road. We love being able to cycle our way around new places and see sights that just are nothing like Michigan. It’s a big country, and we haven’t even begun yet to scratch the surface of all the spots we’d like to see.

The Lake Mead Recreation Area is dotted with marinas and campgrounds on the western shore. Since we enjoyed Calllville Bay and Boulder Beach so much, we decided to try Cottonwood Cove, a new one (to us) farther south on Lake Mojave. Want solitude? This is your place!20180105_072216.jpg img_1065Two loops have about 120+ campsites, but only three were occupied. The marina was quiet, the Lake itself was deserted, with the exception of one kayak.20180105_202111.jpg There wasn’t a sound at night, other than the guy across the campground, playing some of my favorite 60s songs on his guitar and harmonica (Ghost Riders and The Boxer were two of my favorites).  Although it seems that this campground would be an inferno in the summer heat, it was the perfect stop for us in early January. It’s 15 miles from anywhere (uphill all the way to the town of Searchlight), so we just wandered around a bit on foot, cooked great food, and buried our noses in good books. I feel a bit guilty sometimes about being so lazy, but then I figure “So what? I’m old. This is what that’s all about.” I’m actually getting pretty good at doing absolutely nothing for a day or two at a time.

But, civilization calls. We have no more coffee, and no clean clothes. It’s time to move on. So, we booked six nights of camping at Lake Havasu State Park, where we have electric/water onsite, brewpubs and restaurants, and WiFi at the laundromat (guess where I am?) Going from one of the quietest campgrounds we’ve ever visited to Lake Havasu is shocking. It’s like being camped at a dragstrip, with the highway nearby. And, there are many huge powerboats on the Lake, each roaring by full-throttle. Today is Sunday, and there’s an exodous out of the campground. We’re hoping for a quiet day or two before it fills up again.

Feast or famine, I guess.


A Dam Fine Holiday Week

After five days of driving every day, we were more than ready to roll into Las Vegas, and get out of the damn truck. No driveway has ever looked more welcoming than that of my sister’s home there. We piled out, ready to hang out with friends and family for a few days, and that’s exactly what we did.

But, you know the old saying…..”Family, like fish, begins to stink after five days.” Ever mindful of wearing out our welcome, we decided to head to Lake Mead for three days of camping, and return on New Year’s Eve, in time to watch the Spartans beat Alabama in the Cotton Bowl. (HA! We all know how that turned out, right?) I had even gone to the casino and placed a $10 bet just to get a bit of skin in the game.20151227_135145On the advice of brother in law Dan, we decided to camp at Boulder Beach CG, which is the closest of the established campgrounds to Hoover Dam. Both John and I have visited the Dam previously, but not together, and not for many years. Boulder Beach turned out to be a marvelous choice – sparsely populated and sparkling clean.20151228_13133520151229_091209 Low water levels in Lake Mead make a waterfront site just a wee bit of a walk these days, but the camping fee of $5/day (with our Senior Pass) was just right. Lots of beautiful sights here, and a few not-so-beautiful. I was intrigued by this dead mallard in the water, which had been picked nearly clean.20151228_142021Low water levels are always a topic of conversation here. Lake Mead was last at capacity in 1983 – currently it’s at 38% of capacity – a 143 foot drop.

Once again, we are happy to be people who enjoy cycling. As we hit the bike trail heading toward the Dam, we could see traffic backing up on the highway. It’s a great feeling to know that we probably beat most of those folks to their destination. The best part of the ride was the last 4 miles, where we connected to the National Historic Railroad Trail. This unpaved 4-mile segment, constructed on an old railroad grade, passes through five tunnels used during construction of the Dam.20151229_134210 20151229_104222Throw in a dozen panoramic views – it adds up to a really fun ride. 20151229_10453320151229_134714Hoover Dam is one of those public works projects that defies imagination. 20151229_130148 How could it have been so well engineered that, nearly 80 years later, it still provides water to 25 million area residents, as well as providing power, silt control, and erosion control? How could it have been completed nearly 2-1/2 years ahead of its seven-year schedule? There are dozens of amazing statistics in this massive project.

Adjacent to the Dam is the Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, which opened in 2007.20151229_114748 John and I actually cycled across the bridge the day before it was open to traffic as part of Viva Bike Vegas. It was dazzling to be on that high span with thousands of cyclists and NO car or trucks. Now, the pedestrian walkway on the Bridge provides great high views of the Dam. No matter what your interest, wandering around the Dam complex and the Visitor Center is a great way to spend an afternoon.20151229_114254Great weather influenced our decision to ride the 35-mile River Mountains Loop Trail on our last day in camp.20151230_145706 While this should have been a breeze, the rolling terrain took a toll on us. We were delighted to find that the last 8 miles were a slick downhill from Boulder City back to Boulder Beach CG. We were knackered – why do we let ourselves get so out of shape?

New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas should be a huge party, and it probably is for the thousands of other visitors to this playground. Back in the safe haven at my sister Gail’s house, we all managed not to see any fireworks, or toast the entry of the 2016. Old farts? Well, maybe….

Death Valley National Park will be our home for the next several days. Family, like fish…..

Happy New Year.