Monthly Archives: December 2014
Having covered about 2,100 miles, we were ready to leave Arizona and enter California directly to the west, but there was a landmark that I didn’t want to miss. It wasn’t too far out of the way to see the famed Hoover Dam, so we were going to a different location of the Colorado River. The arch-gravity dam, originally known as the Boulder Dam, was built to provide electricity, irrigation, and to help control flooding.
After less than a 4 hour drive from the Grand Canyon, we arrived at the landmark, walking the top of the dam where US 93 ran along the crest. It was a two lane road at the time, at least until 2010, when the Hoover Dam Bypass was created to ease the congestion.
Construction on this beast of a structure began in 1931, and was dedicated by president Roosevelt in 1935 (it was fully completed in 1936). With the effort of over 5,000 men and a sacrifice of 112 lives, no structure of its kind had ever been constructed. Built between the canyon walls that bear the weight of the water from Lake Mead, a body of water that was shored up with the creation of the dam, it thus made it the largest reservoir in the country.
A sustained drought is currently zapping the water level in Lake Mead. As reported by USA Today recently, those levels are at their lowest since the reservoir was filled. Beside the drought, water demand is on the rise as populations multiply. Las Vegas, a city of about 2 million residents, completely relies on Lake Mead for their fresh drinking water.
We parked in a designated area of the visitors center at the top of the dam. Having been before the bypass was built at the time of our visit, traffic was difficult to navigate through, and was slow going. We arrived at the viewing area, and the canyon seemed to open up. Looking toward the downstream side of the dam, it looked like a giant sloping, steep slide, and I had to wonder what a fall down it would be like. Horrible, I’m sure, but it appeared this way because the dam is thicker at the bottom (660 feet), than at the top (45 feet).
660 feet thick?
Towering above the Colorado River at over 726 feet, and stretching from one canyon wall to the other 1,244 feet at the crest, it took 4.4 million yards of concrete to reinforce the structure against the high pressures of a body of water. That’s enough concrete to build a two lane road from one coast of the US to the other. It took 6.5 years to fill Lake Mead, and was done so slowly because engineers wanted to introduce the pressures on the dam gently.
Hoover Dam has a powerhouse with 17 generators, capable of generating over 4 billion kilowatt hours per year. Most of that power (56%) is used by California, while Nevada and Arizona combine for the rest (44%).
Walking around the massive structure, I noticed overflow spillways that were some 100 feet deep, equipped with massive flood gates difficult to imagine men built. There’s no wonder why over a million people visit the site each year, and why I was sure to return again some day. Like the Grand Canyon, this marvel is something every American should see within their life time, as well as other destinations to come in this series.
There’s so much to see.
I’m not necessarily a Sarah Palin fan, but I do align with the Tea Party quite a bit in that smaller government and less taxes is the correct agenda (I’m Libertarian). But when the truth is the truth, why can’t leftist liberals admit it?
Instead, they turn nasty, slinging their feces in an attempt to distort any message not aligning with liberal rhetoric. Are they living in a make-believe world? It’s this type of thinking that has brought our once great country to its knees, and there doesn’t appear to be any hope in sight.
Last year, it was reported that MSNBC’s commentator Martin Bashir said that “someone should defecate on Sarah Palin” after the Alaskan governor compared the U.S. debt to slavery.
As we stand idly by, allowing a president to hack the Constitution and Bill of Rights into pieces, liberals are getting their way based upon plenty of fiction. So many have become indoctrinated to believe the government is the answer to everything wrong in their pathetic, lazy lives.
That’s correct, American’s are becoming a lazy breed. More than half of American’s depend upon the government in some form, turning entitlements which were designated as a temporary safety net in to ‘entitled to it for life.’ But the left would have us believe that only illegal aliens can work the fields, enslaving them for their low wages.
No accountability on so many levels.
The “comforts” of life have made us complacent to skills of yesteryear, and our social norm has made iconic electronics our way of communicating. There’s no personal interaction like the old days.
What are we becoming?
From every corner of our country there is certain peril at this rate, as our country further falls into debt and despair. So, I agree wholeheartedly with the Tea Party, and those with a grunion of common sense would also agree. But, that’s why the current government despises them. Common sense is no longer an equation. We’re truly on a path of self destruction, whilst we all stand by gawking and complaining.
This complacency is allowing the government to do as they wish, and this includes dividing the people. The biggest divide at the moment are the races, where at the behest of the government, are using tools such as Al Sharpton to stir the pot.
It’s being speculated that this tension may turn in to a race war, and it’s quite obvious it’s being done on purpose in order to create a state of martial law.
Obama and his handlers weren’t able to take the guns, quell free speech or other guarded rights, so it appears the next best way to achieve those objectives is to turn Americans against themselves whereas the government will step in and take over.
Our country is about to undergo a serious change. These changes will be something even the liberals won’t enjoy too much. But are they too blind to see it until it’s too late?
Too late it may be. Even now.
A River Eats Through It
With the impression of Meteor Crater still creating excitement, we were off to see Grand Canyon National Park. Located about 125 miles northwest of Winslow, Arizona, the drive was an easy one to navigate, staying mostly on Interstate 40.
“I’ve read a lot about the Grand Canyon,” I told my friend Lee as we got closer to the park. He chuckled, replying with a smirk, “Reading about it and looking at pictures is one thing, but seeing it with your own eyes is going to take your breath away.”
We arrived after about two hours to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. A winding, two lane road led past gift shops and small restaurants, as well as signage detailing the history of varying views along the way.
Recognized as a landmark since the late 1800’s, the Grand Canyon was officially dedicated a national park in 1919 by the signing of the Grand Canyon National Park Act by then-president Woodrow Wilson. However, the first president to show his love for the park was President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1903, he said of the Grand Canyon:
The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison—beyond description; absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world… Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.
The park itself is nearly 1.25 million acres in size. The canyon is about 18 miles across at it’s widest point and as deep as one mile in some places. I found it difficult to fathom that the Colorado River carved out the tributaries deep in to the Earth on such a grand scale. But it didn’t happen over night. The rock (some of the oldest on Earth) is made up of sediment, as layer upon layer can be seen dating back to the Precambrian period. Over the course of a billion years, the area went from a canyon, then to a mountain range that rivals todays Himilayas, then back to a canyon again surrounded by a plain. Once below an inland sea, it surfaced again, and that’s when the Colorado River began carving the canyon as we see it today.
Most tourists see the Grand Canyon primarily from the South Rim (Mather Point), as the North Rim is slightly less accessible.
There is a walking tour on the Rim Trail, but before embarking on such a hike, do beware that the walk is 8 miles in length, and if tourists want to reach the bottom of the canyon, walking back up is even more challenging. The park offers mules for this journey, but if a fear of heights describes you, do know that the mules walk on the outer-most edge of the trail, where in places it’s quite a drop.
I have a fear of heights. While this fear is healthy for all, I’m a little bit more extreme with the concern of falling than most people. Walking up to the edge of the canyon from Mather Point was a slow process for me, but Lee assured me that visitors rarely fall from the ledge unless it’s intentional.
Most deaths at the Grand Canyon resulted from plane crashes (375), compared to “Over the Edge” deaths (108). I didn’t bother looking in to how many of those were suicides, but it’s reported that the Grand Canyon is a leader among state park locations, getting its fair share.
Eventually I managed to get close enough to the ledge (where there were rails to cling to tightly, I might add) to see the mile drop. The view made my heart skip a few beats, and the shear size of the canyon left me in awe. It was true; there’s no real way of descibing the Grand Canyon to its fullest. Simply indescribable, and by-far the most spectacular place I’d ever seen in my life.
I knew after we departed the Grand Canyon that what I had just experienced was going to be hard to top. But as I would later realize, each place I visited during nearly 20 years of travels had its own beauty unrivaled by the last. Aiming the car towards California, there was a long list of things yet to see.
The journey was just getting started
From Space it Came
My friend Lee and I awoke about 9 a.m. the next morning. I recall the night before when we arrived at the hotel it was in the low 60’s. I had to get a couple things out of the car that I needed to get ready for the drive that day, and strolled through the hotel lobby towards the doors. I had the same clothes on as I did since leaving Florida (native Floridians don’t normally wear much. Shorts, tank top and flip flops) and was eager to shower and change.
The front desk clerk said hello nice enough, but she had a puzzled look on her face. Then she asked politely, “Sir, are you really going out there like that?”
I suddenly felt as if I may have forgotten to put shorts on, or something may have been hanging out that shouldn’t have been. I looked down, and to my relief, I was covered.
“Have to get a few things out of the car,” I said, curiously looking around in confusion. As if being careful not to offend me, she answered, “Well sir, it’s 15 below 0 outside.”
I laughed, and just then, pushed the door open and walked out. The wind was strong, blowing sub-zero air in to my face. I stopped dead in my tracks, and within seconds I was standing in front of the clerk who was now shaking her head.
“Sir, I did try to warn you.”
Realizing I was a long way from Florida hit me like a wave, and was back in the room in no time. I explained to Lee that the temperature dropped about 70 degrees over night, and even as someone who had once worked in the northern slopes of Alaska, it was difficult for him to believe. We both got dressed as warmly as our wardrobe would allow, and headed out to the car. He too, was very surprised about the huge temperature change.
Before leaving town and continuing our journey, we stopped by the store, grabbing new jackets, gloves and something to keep our heads warm. In all my years, about 27 of them at the time, I had never experienced such bitterly frigid weather. And little did I realize at the time that cold weather would be a way of life I’d eventually get used to.
After getting warmer attire, we drove west further, and after driving a spell in Arizona, we took a strange detour. There were peculiar signs about alien life, and the road we were traveling on was desolate. Riding for about another 30 minutes, we arrived at the destination Lee said I would enjoy immensely.
I knew aplenty about Meteor Crater, but only from text books and science programs on television. I knew it was the best-preserved meteor impact site in the entire world, and was about 50,000 years old. 18 miles west of Winslow, Arizona, the impact crater was created when a meteor, about 160 feet in length and weighing several hundreds of thousands of pounds, struck the Earth’s surface at about 28,000 mph. The densely solid mass of nickel-iron created an explosion equivalent to a 10-megaton bomb, vaporizing and spewing the crater 570 feet deep and 3,900 feet across. With a total circumference of about 2.4 miles, it was no less than an amazing experience laying my eyes on this historic hole in the middle of the Arizona desert.
Researchers after the discovery of the crater recovered pieces of the meteor that weighed as much as 600 pounds and are on display at the visitors center. It’s speculated that humans didn’t see the site until about 10,000 years after the impact. The climate was much cooler 40,000 years ago in that part of Arizona, and much more moist. In fact, there was much grassland in that area at the time and woolly mammoths and giant ground sloths were its inhabitants, according to fossil finds and dating.
We looked in wonder for several hours, loading and using at least 2 rolls of film. I was beginning to see the world outside of Florida for the first time, and was told that if I thought Meteor Crater was awesome, I hadn’t seen anything yet. Life was about to forever change. What could be more spectacular than what I had just witnessed? When we got in to the car, Lee let me in on just what that could be.
Grand Canyon National Park.
Read more about Meteor Crater here.
Hittin’ the Road
I recall leaving Orlando in November 1996 like it was just last week. I think the experiences I had on my first cross-country trip and memories of the sights and variety of cultures along the way made it easy to remember. Being an avid reader of text books on geography, science and culture only gave me a glimpse of what was west of the Mississippi River through vivid imagination. In some areas of the country, I predicted with educated guesses as to what to expect.
Some educated guesses those were.
We aimed the car northward to I-10, then west. Our goal for that first day was wide open, as we still didn’t have a definitive route planned. We were however, on the same page about seeing as much as we could possibly see. If it meant driving out of the way, we were all for it; there was no time limit on getting to Spokane, as we saved enough money to poke along if we wished.
I had never been to historic New Orleans, having only heard about famous Bourbon Street, the Jazz culture and unique fare of Cajun food. So, naturally it was our first stop after rolling through the bayou on the interstate that stretched for many miles.
Interestingly, New Orleans itself was formed from silt that flowed down the Mississippi River some 4,200 years ago. The population has fluctuated over the last 25 years from 500,000 residents to about 380,000 today. Its most dramatic population change occurred in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina put much of the city under water. The population plummeted to 230,000, but rebounded to today’s numbers.
We arrived in New Orleans rather early, making very good time getting there. We walked down Bourbon Street, and I noted all of the familiar buildings I had seen on television and in books. I recall a jazz band with the signature New Orleans sound, shoppers and tourists gazing in to windows of the various specialty shops and unique bars. I snapped my pictures, then we were off to a local restaurant for a bite to eat, which I must say was very good. It was off of a cajun menu, and it was nothing like the “Cajun” food one would get in a supermarket elsewhere.
Wanting to continue on after a much-needed dinner break, we decided to take turns driving to make better time. We went west in to Texas, then north through Dallas/Fort Worth. Our new goal that day was to make it through Oklahoma City and begin looking for a hotel. For the most part, the weather remained decent, keeping road conditions rather safe. As we drove deeper in to the heartland, the expanses began to get larger than life. Hundreds upon hundreds of square miles of grazing and farm land was much of what we saw between one small town after another.
Driving through Oklahoma City, the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was still in my mind from over a year earlier. On April 19, 1995, two anti-government extremists, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, planned and executed one of the worst acts of terrorism on American soil, detonating explosives that killed 168 people. That number included 19 young children who were in the daycare located within the building. Terry Nichols was ultimately sentenced to life in prison, whereas Timothy McVeigh was subsequently executed in 2001.
It was all over the news for some time. The sky line of Oklahoma was very familiar from the constant television coverage, therefore it was easy for me to see the empty spot in which the building once stood as we drove through.
The trip continued to Clinton, Oklahoma, and by the time we arrived it was around 6 in the evening. We got a hotel room and a bite to eat, laid back for some much-needed rest and pondered where we would go next.
Then it came to us.
Since we were making such great time and still had a week or more to explore, we determined we were going to head towards the west coast, and see the sites along the way. We decided to keep going west for a while then south through Arizona, where my friend, Lee, said there was something there he thought I’d like to see. We both slept good after being in the car for a day and a half, and woke up ready to go early.
But mother nature wasn’t about to make that an easy task.