Sunday, September 29, 2013

Hoover Dam: Ecological Destruction as Tourist Attraction



It seems that the Hoover Dam is a must see on the tourist road between Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. And it’s true, the man made engineering feat is a sight to behold with its massive canyon straddling the Colorado River on the border between Nevada and Arizona. It’s awe-inspiring, but it is also ecologically disastrous – I would have thought.


I find it curious that a violent carving apart of a mountain and the colonization of the Colorado River to facilitate the irrigation of golf courses in the desert, and cotton fields in Arizona and water needs of southern California would be heralded as a tourist sight not to be missed. And, while there is mention of those who lost their lives because of the harsh conditions during the building of the dam, at the site itself, the dam is presented as a celebration of American engineering achievement that effectively relieves the flooding of the Colorado River. The reality is that today, most years, the Colorado river no longer reaches the ocean. The Hoover Dam might be a visually stunning construction, but it is also a tragic violation of the natural landscape.


All skepticism aside, perhaps the most fascinating thing about our visit to the Hoover Dam was, to my surprise, my experience of acrophobia. Walking across the gravity arch bridge, hundreds of meters above the dam basin, every time I approached the rail and looked over, I became physically anxious, feeling the fear running through my legs and into my chest as my body verged on a panic attack, believing it was in danger of falling over the the railing. I am sure this experience is not meant to entice visitors to stop at the Dam, but it was, for me, the most compelling part of the visit.

Because it is another government-run site, the lack of commercialism is refreshing. Similarly, the generating towers, art deco facilities and sounds of the wind and generators hundreds of meters below the viewing  point, creates a mesmerizing, other-worldliness to a facility that is still in use today. All in all, therefore, it was a conflicting experience, but one people should probably have for themselves. Mine might, afterall, be an uncommon response to what is hailed as one of the great engineering feats of the twentieth century.

1 comment:

Rob White said...

I have found that acrophobia gets worse the older I get. I used to be completely fearless, but not these days. You have my full sympathy, because it's not pleasant.