Thursday, May 17, 2012

Guest Post | Sean O'Bryan

Today's guest post is by Sean O'Bryan, a prior colleague of mine. Sean is a seasoned traveler, having explored most of this country by car and motorcycle. In our planning, we've put so many destinations on the map, sometimes they seem to be soul-less dots with one-liner descriptions. Stories like this one get us excited to visit the great marvels out there!



I informed my best friend, Brian Kelleher, that I was going to be guest blogging and that I chose the Hoover Dam as my point of interest. I asked him to give me his impressions that I would incorporate into the piece. His response was too good to adulterate in any way so I will start with his text verbatim:

“I sat down at my local [in San Fran], ordered my martini and thought --- man v nature; the dam v Vegas ---- and I thought some more, and drank a bit more too. My thoughts kept circling back to the question: "What most struck me when visiting the Hoover Dam?" It's been almost 20 years since I made that trek with you across the county. As long ago as this was....I landed on a memory of the
Hoover dam that remains with me today. Here goes: What I was most struck by, other than the enormity of the over 700 foot high apron of concrete and bright blue waters of Lake Mead spreading behind it, is the monument dedicated to the memory of those "who died to make the desert bloom"

Oskar Hansen's memorial - Bureau of Reclamation, 2010

Just over the dam on the Nevada side, flanking this monument are the angels, art deco beauties standing defiantly amid the surrounding harsh desert landscape. I most remember these.

Hoover Dam’s Deco Angels - S. O’Bryan, 1991

To me they represent the confidence of man triumphing over his environment, a struggle humankind has endured since first venturing from the African savanna in a pursuit of more abundant lands, and by doing so starting the first revolution: our transformation from hunter gatherer to farmer and herdsman. The dam to me, is a modern-day temple celebrating the unbroken link from subsistence to an existence of convenience, comfort and leisure.”

20 years ago, as Brian and I stood atop the 3,250,000 cubic yards of cement making up the monolithic dam it seemed this earthly creation constructed in just 4 years (completed in 1935) was the zenith of a millenia-long journey from a physical construction engineering achievement perspective. Save for the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937, it still holds true.

Columns of Hoover Dam being filled with concrete, February 1934 (looking upstream from the Nevada rim)

The future appeared reserved for advancements toward reaching beyond earth’s atmosphere, greater and cheaper sources of energy, stronger and more deadly weapons, better communication and calculating technology, and lets not forget the creation of such marvels as the self cleaning electric oven invented in 1963. It seemed that gone were the days where Americans dared (or felt it necessary or possible) to dream big and brashly look into the face of all nature and say, “lets do this” (for better or for worse). Physical works of wonder have taken a long ride in the back seat while technological advances have enjoyed a fast and furious hell ride through the American landscape blazing into the desserts of silicone valley doing wild doughnuts in the dirt.

But there is an engineering marvel built recently that I think is notable and lo and behold it is also at the Hoover Dam site. The Mike O'Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, also referred to as the Hoover Dam By-pass Bridge, also known as the Colorado River Bridge project (naming things in that part of the world has always been a challenge) was hatched in 2001 primarily designed to take pressure of the actual dam in terms of traffic congestion. In the shadow of this great dam where 112 men died in its construction, grew another dessert flower that spans the 1,060 feet across the ravine - one side Nevada the other Arizona - with the Colorado’s controlled flow running 900 feet below. This engineering marvel took 8 years (2003-2010) to complete.

Hoover Dam Spill Way - S. O’Bryan, 1991 Hoover Dam Spill Way - Unknown, 2009

The Colorado River Bridge is a stake in the ground that states, “Americans can still build remarkable things, but it just takes us twice as long as it used to.” Go and stand amongst these marvels that seem to grow out of the black canyon rock and I assure you that you will be struck with a strong sense of the passage of time, the evolution of man, and the fact that concrete is awesome.

Black Rock Canyon, Aerial View - Unknown, ~2007

I strongly recommend checking out these links:

Wikipedia on Hoover Dam (it really is a great read)

Great pictures of the bridge construction

Taras and Amanda, I am hoping that the absence of updates to your site implies you are too distracted with all this great country has to show and offer. Keep it up! That’s what we guestbloggers are for!


Thank you, Sean, for the insiring write-up! And yes, we're still figuring out the good mix of taking in the views vs. writing blog posts. :)

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