Posted by: Juniper Road | December 13, 2012

Art and Engineering, by Bike

On a chilly gray day, we loaded our bikes into the truck and set out for a trailhead on the other side of Lake Mead. The biking was easy – mostly flat, with some rolling hills to keep it interesting. The first two miles were exciting because we biked through five enormous old train tunnels. Blasted out of the rock — or really the mountain sides surrounding the lake– they were cavernous at nearly 30 feet high. Popular with bats, the ceilings and sloping sides were dark, although most of the tunnels were short enough that we had a little daylight for the ride through. In between, we had a sweeping view from high above the lake, with the cloudy day hiding some of the beauty of the usually vivid blue water.

Speeding downhill along the final curves, we found giant power lines overhead and a bike rack as the trail ended abruptly. No bikes allowed. I guess this is the end of our ride. Our lock left behind at camp, we took turns going forward on foot for the last half mile. Down a sidewalk hidden among rocky cliffs, across and down a parking garage, a sharp left and there it is – flanked by soaring Winged Figures of the Republic (or guardian eagles as we called them) — Hoover Dam.

Holding back the rushing waters of the Colorado, I knew the dam would be impressive. I didn’t expect it to be so monumental, such a massive combination of engineering and art. Coming upon it by foot, from the red hills high above that hid the dam until I was literally upon it, was a wonderful way to discover it. I walked slowly past the giant winged sculptures and across the dam, reminding myself to turn my eyes ahead once in awhile to watch where I was going, and wondered how small humans could have taken on something so much bigger than we are.

I headed south into Arizona on the “low water” side, the mighty river far below the dizzying sweep of the concrete dam. Along the way are art deco carvings and even gracious old brass and glass-tiled restrooms in the middle towers of the dam (!). Since the dam is a major source of hydroelectric power, there are giant metal towers at impossible angles over the canyon, supporting the buzzing power grid infrastructure. The towers seem to be defying gravity, like they’d topple over if no one was watching. So naturally, I kept my eyes on them.

I crossed the street and headed back to Nevada, with Lake Mead looking impossibly deep and wide in front of the dam, yet held in place by the 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete. This structure is just immense. Begun in 1931, the dam was actually finished two years ahead of schedule. It’s worth a few minutes to read the Wikipedia entry for Hoover Dam – lots of great details there – like hard hats seem to have been invented on the job site, by workers who dipped their hats in tar to harden them and give some protection from rocks falling from the canyon walls. The whole place feels like a piece of history you can walk on.

Another short visit with the “guardian eagles” and a long look back at the dam, and it was time to climb back up to where Kris was waiting with our bikes. We pedaled back and found one more surprise — just after the last tunnel, we saw a small herd of bighorn sheep on the steep, rocky hillside above us! The herd seemed to be mostly younger sheep, based on the smallish size of their horns. Since we’d been scanning canyon walls on pall of our hikes hoping to catch a glimpse of one, it was a great surprise to find them here, and a nice way to end our ride.



  1. That must have been simply spectacular!!!
    Love and hugs to you all.
    Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
    Aunt Sue

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