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Thursday 26 Sep 2013
Peach Springs, USA

It's big... It's DAM big...

Of all the amazing things Las Vegas had in store, the one we really did not expect was a chance reunion with an ex-colleague.  Verity and I worked together for years at our previous company and were both trained at some stage by a lovely George-Clooney-obsessed Scot named Maria.  She left three years ago and I eventually took over much of her role.  Through the magic of Facebook, I got back in touch with her a few months ago.  After the show last night, I was skimming through the news feed and noticed Maria had just posted a photo of the Bellagio Fountains, taken from very close to our hotel.  A few messages each way and we had arranged to meet up this morning.

It was great to see Maria again and she was just as much fun as we remembered.  We only had time for breakfast as we were on our way out of town and she was there for work – she’d just arrived for a wound care conference (in Vegas! She’d jumped at the chance and was keeping her eye out for a certain Mr. Clooney at the Bellagio.)  Despite not seeing each other for years, it seemed perfectly normal to be eating at a French café outside Paris on a sunny morning in Las Vegas.

After saying farewell, we drove down the Strip on the hunt for the infamous “Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas” sign.  It has its own car park in the central reservation, but we didn’t realise this until we’d shot past.  Unfortunately, Las Vegas (and America in general) doesn’t do roundabouts, just huge great intersections of multi-lane boulevards with central reservations, which makes simply turning around a challenging activity.  We had to take several side streets until we could find somewhere that would let us pull back out onto the opposite side of the road.  Verity was driving, so I helpfully suggested we try the next turning, as “it looks as good as any”.  Famous last words: closer examination revealed the next turning was in fact a railway line on a cleverly disguised level crossing! Oops.  Thankfully, Verity didn’t take my advice and spent the rest of the trip reminding me of it. 15 minutes and several false turns later, we eventually got into the parking lot and joined the queue to take our pictures with the sign.

After that, we headed South East to Boulder City.  Five years ago, I took a helicopter flight out over the Grand Canyon.  This took us past Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam.  They were in the process of building a new bridge across the canyon to alleviate traffic on the dam itself.  At the time, I’d thought it was a suspension bridge, but the suspension towers I’d seen turned out to be the means of supporting the arch beneath the bridge during construction.  What stands there now is a smooth elegant single arch supporting a flat top.  The bridge has been designed to reflect the smooth lines of the Hoover Dam and built in similar pale concrete.  It really works. 

This trip was meant to be an appreciation of the natural features of the landscape rather than the man-made ones, but it turns out I really am my father’s daughter and found myself fascinated by these two projects.  The Hoover Dam is big. Dam big, as they say.  Looking over the edge, I felt my tummy do the now-familiar vertigo flip.  There are thousands of tons of concrete involved and the engineering is phenomenal.  What I loved most was the detail, though.  Although the purpose is purely functional, they took the time to add Art Deco lines to the towers and overflows. When designing the new bridge, they’d gone out of their way to pick a design that would compliment the dam, even if it wasn’t the cheapest or easiest solution. 

At the side of the dam there is a memorial for the men who died during its construction, with two enormous winged figures.  I had a jolt of recognition at these and it took me a second to realise why - they had come to life to rescue Percy Jackson!  (I’ve read far too many fantasy books.)

Looking out over Lake Mead, it’s easy to see it as an enormous body of water.  However, looking more closely at the waterline, it is clear just how much it has gone down.  Peering over the edge of the dam, it’s surprising how much of the dam towers are exposed.  The Colorado River is now over a kilometre longer than it was 10 years ago because the water level in the lake has receded so much.  Nevada has been in a drought for over a decade and there are serious concerns about how long they will be able to provide for the growing power demands of the state – in 20 years’ time Las Vegas may not be such a bright light city after all.

Leaving the marvels of engineering behind us, we entered Arizona and headed south for 65 miles.  In a straight line.  No bends at all for 65 miles.  I think that’s worth repeating.  This was a very strange experience and quite unnerving.  It’s actually quite hard to do without getting a bit hypnotized.  There were huge flat plains on either side of us leading to distant hills, really emphasizing the vastness of the country we were passing through.  I know America is big, but this was the first time on our road trip that we could fully appreciated it.  We turned onto another section of Route 66 and followed it into Hualapai Indian Territory.  We didn’t have time to do the 70 mile detour to the rim of the Grand Canyon for the Sky Walk, a huge glass walkway which juts out over the edge of the canyon, allowing visitors to look straight down at the canyon floor a mile below them. I am not sure my newfound vertigo would have been too keen anyway. There has been some criticism of this incursion into one of nature’s wonders, but the land is part of the Hualapai reserve and provides them with a much-needed source of income. 

We passed through a small town and set off from the lights at the same time as the biggest freight train I’ve ever seen.  As Verity drove, I did my best to count the carriages as we passed it.  There were at least 90 carriages, each containing two or more containers.  We kept pace with it for a good quarter of an hour until it finally got up enough speed to leave us behind.  It was a strangely beautiful sight to watch it rattling off in the distance.

We spent the night at the Hualapai Lodge in Peach Springs, listening to the whistle blasts and trains rattling by. 


Mileage: 668

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Zoe's Big World Adventure Part II - #1 America

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    Peach Springs