Jan 28, 2013

Turnagain Arm in Winter

 It was a beautiful, clear day here in Southcentral Alaska. But it was cold... Very cold. It was about zero degrees at the warmest, and at times dropped as cold as -20 degrees. And once we got along the Turnagain Arm south of Anchorage the winds were howling.
We were of course geocaching. We hit 8 today.
 The Seward Highway along the Turnagain Arm is a National Scenic Bywater, and well worthy of that designation. The drive along here is one of my favorites.
I had planned on taking a lot more photos, but the brisk weather put a damper on things....

 This is looking south past the train tracks across the Turnagian Arm to the Chugach Mountains on the Kenai Peninsula.
 We spotted a half dozen of these dall sheep on the rocks above the highway. The lines in the photo are power lines that were between us & the sheep.
 The sunset was amazing...

 The tail end of a train that passed us... By the time I got the camera onto the proper setting it was almost gone around the corner.
 The Alaska Range on the other side of the Cook Inlet...

Jan 20, 2013

Valley of Fire

Right after Thanksgiving we spent a week in Southern Nevada and did some exploring. Our biggest day included visiting Hoover Dam and then driving along Lake Mead to Valley of Fire State Park. You can see the Hoover Dam story here in my earlier post...  
And here's link to the map of our route that day....
We could have spent the entire day here, but we didn't actually make here until late in the after noon. We spent more time at the dam than we planned and then took our time driving up along Lake Mead. We just barely made it through the park before it got dark.

As you can see from the map of our journey we did the trip as a big circle. You can find more information about the park at their official website, or at the Wikipedia article. I won't take the time here to give all facts & figures here since they are easily found on the linked pages.

 These pictures show probably the best part of our drive through. It was towards the end of the day and the sun was headed towards the horizon. We had taken a bumpy side road to see Arch Rock. After getting a good photo of it, we loaded back up in the car and headed towards the park exit. We came around a corner, and this guy was on the rock dead ahead of us.

We did a little freak out... I'm yelling "look, get a picture", Christy is trying to get out of the car to take the picture, but I've neglected to actually stop the car because I'm too busy telling her to get a picture.
We finally got stopped and got out of the car and a second one showed up. These are big horn sheep. We watched them for about 5 minutes before the went over the other side of the rock.
 This is the Arch Rock we had taken the side road to see. The rock formations in this park were impressive.
 Some of the wonders in the park are man made. These petroglyphs, or rock art, where made by Native Americans around 1,500 years ago. A great discussion on these fascinating markings can be found here...
To reach the petroglyphs you had to climb up an extensive set of stairs. These are a more recent addition. They were a nice replacement for the narrow steep steps that had been carved into the rocks at some point.

From here, I'm going to let the pictures speak for themselves...

 I love the contrasting colors in this picture. Christy takes amazing photos.

Jan 15, 2013

The Hoover Dam

It's been a month and a half since our trip to Southern Nevada and I've been wanting to do a post on our visit to the Hoover Dam ever since. I started one post, but Blogger was giving me some formating issues so I had to abandon it.
The Hoover Dam is an engineering marvel. I won't go into all the facts & figures here, but if you want you can give the Wikipedia article a read here.... The official visitors site for the Hoover Dam is here....  This picture looks across the face of the dam. See the three towers on the front? Well, actually there are four, but this shot only shows three.

Two of those towers house bathrooms, one for men and one for women. The dam was built in the '30s with an art deco style reflected throughout. To get to the bathrooms you have to go up a flight of stairs. These are the urinals in the men's room... They don't make 'em like this anymore.
The other two towers house the original ticket booths for the tours and elevators down into the dam. The ticket booths are all closed up now and I assumed the elevators were no longer used. But, at the conclusion of my tour, we exited out of one them. The doors were brass with the this great eagle design on them.

There are four ways to enjoy the dam. The first is completely free. You simply park in one of the free parking areas and spend as much time as you'd like walking along the dam. There is a large paid parking garage, but we skipped that and drove across the dam to some free lots.

If just walking on the dam isn't enough you can pay $8 to visit the newly built Visitor's Center. It has some great displays on the construction of the dam and all the benefits of the dam today for power generation, flood control & irrigation. Here's a tip... This place gets busy. And if you have to wait in line, a lot of that will be in the desert sun. So get there early. Most people visit the dam as part of a bus tour from Las Vegas. Those start showing up around 10am. We got there at about 9:15am and avoided the crowds and found a great parking spot in a free lot that filled up quickly after us.

If you are going to pay the $8, you may as spend a few more bucks and spend  $11 on the Power Plant Tour. After watching a short video, your group of 20 will load up in an elevator and travel to the base of the dam and walk down a rock tunnel to the penstock. (If you've seen National Lampoon's Vegas Vacation, this is where Clark uses bubble gum to stop a leak.) The picture here show the 50 foot diameter diversion tunnel used when building the dam. It now houses the 30 diameter pipe where the Colorado River flows to the turbines. There's one tunnel on each side.

And these are the turbines on the Nevada side of the dam. I think there was seven turbines here and eight on the other side. The overhead crane that you see with the American flag is an original crane from the when the dam was built. I was amazed at how much stuff was still original. I guess back then they built things to last.

This is looking down onto the turbine rooms from the top of the dam. Although a big function of the dam is power generation, it's primary function is for flood control and irrigation for the region.

The original marble inlay on the floor in the turbine room. It's a mixture of art deco and southwest Native American style. Since completion, millions of people have walked on this floor and it still looks brand new.

At this point, people who had just paid for the Power Plant Tour headed back up in the elevator. The six of us that paid $30 for the full dam tour headed out with our guide. The aluminum doors and subway tile you see here is all original. The tunnels we traveled through were installed as the dam was built for inspections, but also for tours. They knew the dam would be a major attraction. At this point we are about half way up the inside of the dam.

For me, this next part was the highlight of the tour. We traveled down this narrow tunnel, about 6 foot in diameter...
And across this grate which covered an inspection hole that goes hundreds of feet straight down into the dam....

Our destination was this vent, one of four in the face of the dam. For most of the tour I was too fascinated by what I was seeing to remember to get good photos... But I found this YouTube link where someone took video of this part of the tour...

To get this shot, I stuck my camera out the vents and took a picture looking back up the dam. If you click on any of the pictures in this post you can see a larger version. We will eventually come out of an elevator into that tower you see directly above me.

After being at the front of the dam, we walked back through several tunnels to the back side of the dam. This stairway goes up and down for hundreds of feet and is still used today for inspecting the dam.

This shot is looking straight down the face of the dam. You can see the power plant buildings on either side.

Just down stream of the dam is the new bridge. The highway used to use the top of the dam to cross the river. After 9-11 this was a major security threat so the bridge was built to reroute the traffic.

On the back side of the dam is Lake Mead. There are four intake towers where the water flows into the pipes that takes it around the dam and through the turbines. The white marks on the rocks along shore show the high water mark of the lake. The year those marks were made the Rocky Mountains saw 200% of normal snow fall, making for much higher water levels when it melted that summer.

The state line between Arizona & Nevada runs through the middle of the dam. This puts the dam into two different time zones. There's clocks on the intake towers, showing Arizona time on one, and Pacific Time on the other.

Another example of the art deco theme... These winged figures sit on each side of a tall flag pole that is a monument to the men who worked to make the dam happen. It was an enormous construction project and an engineering marvel.

 Also highlighting the art deco theme is this marble inlay near the base of the flag pole.

Visiting the dam was incredible. I've only included a small portion of the pictures we took and there was a lot we didn't get pictures of. We spent about 2 1/2 hours here and probably could've spent longer. If you ever go: get there early in the day, don't pay to park and fork out the $30 for the full tour. You won't regret it.

After we left the dam, we traveled north along Lake Mead to the Valley of Fire and you can see that post here...  And here's a map link of our route...