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A Dam Funny Time

Sunday, 14 December 2003
written by Teresa

Having finally taken delivery of our wonderful new truck, we were trapped in the excruciating position of having no licence plates for it and thus being unable to drive it. The plates had to come from South Dakota where the vehicle was to be registered, the process taking just over a week and we spent the time in an Escapees Park just outside Pahrump, Nevada. The town claims to be the fastest growing unincorporated conurbation of it's size and there is plenty of new build in evidence, scattered across the comparatively empty desert surrounding the place. There is an incredibly busy post office on Postal Street, two supermarkets, four casinos but no centre or heart to the town. Finding a restaurant away from the slots was a challenge, and for some totally bizarre reason it took over an hour to get something packaged and mailed from the UPS store. The warm winter temperatures had attracted droves of wintering RVers and the Super Wal-Mart was doing a frightening amount of business. All in all a fine place to wait for our new registration, but probably not somewhere that we'll be dashing back to.

Eucalyptus We are now parked in a man made oasis of Oleander, palms and white barked eucalyptus trees in the warm air of Arizona with glimpses of Lake Mead visible through the foliage. There is a gentle but persistent wind rustling the leaves and disturbing the dark blue waters of the reservoir. Away from the irrigation, a thin scattering of desert brush gives little colour to the bare looking land rising from the shore, and the drought of recent years has left a white band of mineral encrusted rock above the water surface. This is not the desert of sand dunes and camels but the epitome of the dry West with its cacti and creosote struggling to survive in the hard baked earth.

The Temple Bar campground is empty when we arrive, the area almost devoid of people and yet strangely, the little café attached to the marina is still open for business and Monday morning finds us wandering down the hill for breakfast. Not surprisingly, we are the only customers in this throw back diner with it's fifties Christmas music. The cook and the one wait staff seem intent on looking busy, but we can see it's a strain. The counter top is slowly but surely being eroded by the over enthusiastic wiping that occupies the waitress. As we leave, the cook thanks us for coming in and speculates that we may be the only customers of the day. The prospect of endless hours of futile occupation weighs heavily on the place and the fate of the counter does not look hopeful.

This is all in sharp contrast with Boulder Beach, on the other side of the lake. Here the campground was considerably busier and a trip down to the marina revealed why. Parade Of Lights Many of the boats were decorated in sufficient lights to illuminate a small town with a generous number of large inflated Santas straining against their shackles in the brisk breeze. Reindeer were usurped by dolphin while Father Christmas water skied his way across one tableaux and his alter ago took a much needed rest from his delivery schedule, gently swinging in a hammock strung between two palm trees with strains of Jimmy Buffett wafting out, extending the Hawaiian greeting of the season. The scheduled Parade of Lights out onto the Lake was unfortunately cancelled due to the wind, but this didn't detract from the wonderful intensity and variety of decorations.

Just below the reflections, schools of enormous Striped Bass prowl, safe in the knowledge of the moratorium on fishing in the harbour. Their quest is the popcorn, thrown into the water by children and adults alike. The first piece never gets a chance to create ripples before the whole surface is churning and frothing with the writhing bodies and gaping mouths of a feeding frenzy. They jump up onto each other's backs almost removing the offered snack right from the extended hand while ducks join in, using the fish as stepping-stones on which to tread in their bid to get higher in the pecking order.

Lake Mead is the restrained waters of the Colorado River, held back by the Hoover Dam. On the approach road, Homeland Security has a stop and search point for RVs wanting to continue across the great edifice. They are extremely pleasant and friendly but thorough in their search of all storage compartments and the inside of the camper. Fortunately, the Housewifely Duty Specialist has been hard at work and the camper is spick and span and ready for inspection, even the bed covers are folded back in the regulation manner.

Hoover Dam The dam itself is incredibly impressive. The height, curve and shape of the downstream face of the wall have a simplicity of line that lends a beauty to the structure. The huge intake tours sit in the deep waters on the upstream side, their vertical fins disappearing below the surface. The true scale of Hoover can best be appreciated by watching the traffic crossing the top, dwarfed into diminutive appearance by the size of its surroundings.

Tourism is in full swing at the dam and even early on a Sunday morning the crowds are gathering. We couldn't resist the guided tour and as we were led down a low-lit tunnel carved out of the rock into the very heart of the operations, we didn't regret our weakness. The generator room is amazing in a number of respects. A single row of generators stretches down the vast hall each decorated in a star spangled bow and with a light on top indicating whether it is working. Only two are in operation, partly because of the drought and partly because at this time of the morning the demand for electricity is comparatively low. It is surprisingly quiet and maybe even more noteworthy, stunningly clean. Everything that can shine, sparkles determinedly and the polished surface of the floor, reflects the walls and the machinery. Generator Room Not a speck of dust or a drop of oil is visible and I can only imagine that the cleaners must be an exceptionally fervent group. If there was ever an advert for the cleanliness of hydropower this must surely be it.

At different stages of the tour we were given illustrations of the amount of concrete used in the building of the main wall. These included a two lane highway stretching from Seattle to Miami, a four-lane highway from San Francisco to New York and finally a footpath around the equator. Quite a lot then. Not being particularly experienced in matters pertaining to concrete, these were at least more interesting ideas than the bald reality of cubic feet.

The eastern side of the dam is in Arizona and the intake tower on that side has a clock showing the time in that state. The western tower and its clock sit in Nevada and by stepping over the imaginary line separating the two, one can decide whether it is time for elevenses or an early lunch at the noon hour. A little diversion is warranted at this stage.

In the United Kingdom, the change in latitude from the eastern to the western coasts is minimal, it being a long skinny island. In order to cross a time line, one has to go onto the continent and so the whole business of time change is one usually associated with travel abroad and holidays. The idea of four time zones in one country is a novelty that I'm not sure I'll ever tire of. If Hawaii and Alaska are added to the equation, the picture is complicated further but we'll stick with the contiguous states for now. As in many other regards, each state has the autonomy to decide whether to adopt day light savings. This gives rise to some interesting situations. Arizona for example does not adopt daylight savings and so in effect moves time zones with the seasons. In the winter they are in Mountain Time and in the summer, Pacific Time. All the other states within the Mountain and Pacific Time zones do adopt summer time and so Arizona is left on it's own to hop from one to the other with the falling and rising temperatures. The Native American Reservations also have autonomy in these matters and many choose not to adopt the savings, and so are at a different time to lands surrounding them. Then there is the peculiarity of Indiana that makes a similar choice to Arizona with the exception of a couple of pockets on its eastern boundary and a couple on its western that do decide to spring forward and fall back in synchronization with the adjoining time zones, and resulting in the peculiar arrangement whereby the western pockets are in the same time zone as the rest of the state in the summer time while the eastern ones are in the same zone in the winter time. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have had to read about this and have Sterling explain it, in order to grasp at least the basics and I'm not sure I fully understand even now. Of course, Americans take all of this in their stride but when we've recently crossed a time zone I can't help but ask Sterling what the real time is, which usually makes him raise his eyebrows and give me that penetrating, steady look of his.

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