Lake Mead.

We went for a swim before leaving Cattail Cove; the water was still silky and warm.  We took the highway north into Lake Havasu City and settled in at a coffee shop, to avail ourselves of their wifi and charge our devices.

Lake Havasu City, Arizona, is an ugly city.  It’s full of big storage parks and RV dealerships.  Most of the city seems to be built in strip mall fashion.  The closest thing we found to a downtown area was by London Bridge… a bridge that once spanned the Thames in London, but which was sold to an American oil entrepreneur.  The stones of the original bridge were numbered and shipped to the US, at which point several of the stones were cut down to make them narrower.  The stones were assembled as a cladding over a steel frame, and the Bridgewater canal was dredged and flooded to give the bridge some water to cross.

The entire escapade was expensive and ridiculous, and for that I do love the story, but the bridge itself, hollow and spanning a man-made river, is like a metaphor for Lake Havasu City itself.

We continued north on 95, and then west on Interstate 40.  After spotting a sign, we abandoned the interstate for Route 66, which runs more or less alongside the main highway and is much more interesting.  During my time making these trips, it has become clear to me that the larger the road, the less interesting it is.  If you have the ability to do so, and the confidence, taking a smaller highway is always the better option.

We took 66 through Needles, California… a place that we found on our last visit to be pretty dire.  This time through, we saw the bones of an old motel.  It was handsome once, with little fifties style design touches that would’ve really popped had the place been maintained.  A couple of the rooms were unlocked; one had half the ceiling torn down and left in heaps of drywall shards on the floor.  The other seemed to be intact.

On closer inspection, it appeared that someone had started the process of replacing some of the room windows.  The pool had recently been filled with gravel.  The place was now abandoned and it looked like nobody had been working there for some time.  It appeared that someone had thought to restore the old motel, and then run out of money and put it up for sale.  It’s so sad… these quirky little motels are so wonderful.

We headed north on yet another highway 95, clear to Lake Mead.  We found a campsite there at a place called Boulder Beach.  The campground seemed fairly empty considering that it was the Friday before Labor Day weekend.  It was a wonderful place to stay; far enough away from the lake to reduce the boating noise, but close enough that we got a breeze from the water.  The whole campground was planted in eucalyptus trees, and it smelled heavenly.

The heat was still punishing, and I ended up taking a nap shortly after the tents were set up.

When things started to cool down a little bit, we drove out to Boulder City.  Boulder City was initially built in order to house the workers who were constructing the Hoover Dam.  It was a wealthy little tourist town, almost entirely white, and was decorated with murals and sculptures celebrating its whitewashed old-timey past.  None of the plaques made mention of the people who died constructing the dam, or the fact that the consortium awarded the contract was not allowed to hire chinese workers to complete the dam.  The shops in the downtown area were decorated with stereotypical images of savage natives, and the occasional libertarian motto.  One even boasted a Don’t Tread On Me flag.  We had some overpriced brand name ice cream in stale waffle cones and an overly cutsey ice cream parlor, and then headed back out to see the dam itself.

The Hoover Dam is incredible; it pools the largest reservoir in the nation behind its bulk.  It is thick enough at the top for the road built across it, and more than six hundred feet thick at its base.  Looking down from the crest of the dam to the generation stations in the canyon below is dizzying.

The Colorado river was diverted for the construction of the dam by four fifty foot wide tunnels blasted through the rock of the canyon walls.  Only two of those tunnels remain open; they are now the Arizona and Nevada spillway tunnels.  The spillways have only been used twice; once for testing, and once in 1983, when Lake Mead overfilled due to flooding.

When we were there, the water was well below the spillways.  It appeared to be at least a hundred feet below the high water mark, leaving a white bathtub ring all around the rocky shores of the lake.  The beautiful intake towers stood tall, with much of their length now clear of the water.

Lake Mead water levels have been steadily falling, and now the predictions for the reservoir’s future are grim.  A combination of persistent drought and increased water demand has caused the volume of the lake to reduce by sixty percent in recent years.  A ghost town once covered by the lake now sits on dry land.  In the winter of 2010, the lake hit an all-time low water level.  And the problem isn’t just with the reservoir… the Colorado River itself is so overtapped for irrigation and drinking water and hydroelectricity that it now dries up to a muddy plain before it ever reaches the sea.  This is the cost of making the desert bloom.

As the sun fell below the horizon, a police officer bellowed through the loudspeaker on his car for everyone to get back to their vehicles and leave.  Security protocols seemed even tighter since we had been here last just in 2009.

We headed back to camp, drank the last of the beers and ate the last of the food from the cooler, and went to bed.  A mountain goat bleated throughout the night, making sleep difficult.  Some fellow camper set off large mortar-style fireworks at around two.

Morning couldn’t come soon enough.

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Author: adrennan

An artist and writer in Bellingham, Washington.

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