Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Las Vegas Adventure - Day 4

[Composed 11/29/2019]

Today the weather finally cleared enough that we could tackle a fun outdoor activity: visiting the Hoover Dam. As I'd hoped, the Dam and surrounding area provided amazing views and a history lesson to match.

While the staff wasn't running tours of the dam the day we visited, they were offering visitors a chance to hear from a docent during a slide presentation. Many folks opted to skip this, and even I admit hearing the phrase 'slide show' conjured up images of a tedious display. However, I'm glad we opted in. The presentation was quite interesting and our guide quite knowledgeable.

I came away from the Hoover Dam with a sense that it was a massive Government project Done Right. It was finished two years ahead of schedule and thanks to the hydroelectric energy it generated, paid for itself. Sure, worker conditions were dangerous and miserable, but it provided a source of employment at a time when the country desperately needed it. While the dam was only made possible through clever innovations, like building a massive refrigerator into the concrete structure, at the end of the day it is basic architecture and physics scaled up. The gravity based arch design was no doubt inspired by the Romans.

All of this work was done with the intention of giving the dam a 10,000 year lifespan. I compare that to the near by Arlington Memorial Bridge, clearly an important link between DC and Virginia, which was built with a paltry 75 year lifespan (it's getting revamped now, a mere 12 years after its expiration date).

After visiting the dam, we made our way to the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, which overlooks the dam and provides even more staggering views.

After visiting the dam and nearby bridge, I thought we'd squeeze in a hike. While the weather was clear, the wind was gusting at 28 miles per hour. After about 7 minutes of hiking we retreated back to our car and got lunch at a nearby Thai restaurant. During lunch I noticed Shira avoiding some of the greens in her dish. When I asked what was up, she explained that her dish smelled like elephant. I explained that surely she was exaggerating, at which point she picked up a leaf dusted by some spice and told me to take a whiff. I breathed deeply and couldn't help myself: my gosh, it smelled like elephant! Specifically, like the elephant enclosure at the zoo! It was like I was 8 years old again and traipsing through the Rochester City Zoo!

In all the years of eating Thai food, we've never consumed anything like this.

In the evening we did more cruising of the Strip to see the sights, do some gambling and most memorably, people watch. Previous days we'd headed North, so tonight we headed South on the strip and went as far as Mandalay Bay. There's a tram from Excalibur to Mandalay Bay that takes about 8 minutes. During this ride, you're in a small cabin with a handful of strangers. On our way back to the Excalibur we found ourselves in an enclosed space with 4 very drunk 'kids' which seemed to be pulled directly from central casting. It was like watching an improv troop pretend to be drunk; but these guys were the real deal. It was all so Vegas.

Back at our hotel room I did a bit more research into the Hoover Dam. Surely there was more to the story than what we'd learned at the site today. Yet, for the most part, the Hoover Dam project has aged well. It really was a massive project that's had a largely positive impact on the area. One takeaway from my research I didn't expect was a new found appreciation for the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. While not quite on the same scale as the Dam, this bridge is a concrete technological marvel and it was built on time and under budget. It seems to answer the question: are our best days of engineering behind us? Heck no.

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