91 Years Ago Today

On this day, 91 years ago today, July 30, 1930, President Herbert Hoover officially authorized the immediate start of construction of Hoover Dam in Black canyon. A 35 miles jaunt outside of what was then, the little town of Las Vegas, Nevada.

President Hoover signed the Appropriation Bill (as part of the Boulder Canyon Project Act), and so Ray Lyman Wilbur, Secretary of the Interior, sent Order No. 436 to Dr Elwood Mead, Commissioner of Reclamation, which read: “You are directed to commence construction on Boulder Dam today.”

From what I have seen in the history books (and I’ve read a lot of them), that’s pretty much how it happened in sequence on this day.  Signed, sealed, and then immediately delivered!

boulder city

People and a Place to Call Home

Six Companies Incorporated, the official contractor for the project could now officially start building what is acknowledged as one of the greatest mechanical wonders on earth. Even the experts of the day didn’t think it would work. That Hoover was just using this as a jobs program to get America back on its feet and people working again.  Yet, here we are, 95 years later, still amazed at its brilliance.

The little company town of Boulder City came alive.  Boulder City was an efficiently run, well-ordered company town built by the Federal Government to house most of the workers and their families.

Over the next 5 years, while the Great Depression played out, thousands of desperate unemployed men and their families would make their move to Las Vegas, hoping to get hired on for the project.

An average payroll of 3,000 workers with peak employment of 5,251 workers in 1934.  96 men officially lost their lives building the dam while the actual death toll is rumored to be around 4-500 workers.

The first official death on the project actually happened on December 20, 1922, J.G. Tierney drowned while surveying in the waters of the Colorado River.  The final official death on the project was Patrick Tierney, 13 years to the day.  December 20, 1935.  yes, father and son!


What’s in a Name

The dam project started out as “The Dam In Boulder Canyon”  because that’s where the federal government first proposed putting the dam.  In Boulder Canyon, about 20 miles north of where the dam is today.

As the project started to become real, the name started to take on a new meaning, especially when it was decided to move the project closer to the village of Las Vegas in a place called Black Canyon. Black Canyon was better suited for creating the needed reservoir behind the dam (Lake Mead). As well as being closer to a labor pool (Las Vegas).

Hubert Hoover had his handprints all over this project. First, as an engineer, helping to pinpoint the best geological location. Then later as the Secretary of the Interior who helped negotiate the water rights treaty between the seven states where the Colorado River flowed.  To being President when it became a reality. Hoover had called it “the greatest engineering work of its character ever attempted by the hand of man.”

Hoover was a republican, so the democrats in Washington used the name “Boulder Dam” and the Republicans used the name “Hoover Dam” – For every legal document you find that says its name was Boulder Dam, you can find a legal document claiming its name was always Hoover Dam. Then you have the one you see most often in the construction documents; “The Dam In Boulder Canyon”.

On September 30, 1935, newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) dedicated the completed dam using the name “Boulder Dam”.  In 1947, Congress passed legislation officially designating the name of the dam in honor of the president who had a lot to do with its creation. Hoover Dam.

Purpose of the Dam

The dam would tame the flood-prone Colorado River protecting cities and farms while generating cheap electricity to supply power to homes and industry, and providing work for thousands who desperately needed jobs. This helped settle the west and prove to the world that America can do anything it sets its mind to do. This made it possible for people to feel safe and confident about moving westward. That you would find a steady flow of water and a steady flow of electricity.

High scalers Hoover Dam, 1932

Don’t you love all those safety harnesses they used back in the day??

Hoover Dam by the Numbers

  • Hoover Dam was built for just $49 million ($962 million in 2021 dollars)
  • The sale of electrical power generated by the dam was used to pay for the revenue bonds used to pay for the building of the dam
  • The last revenue bond was repaid with interest in 1987
  • Hoover Dam is one of the only federal-funded projects to be debt-free
  • 4.4 million cubic yards of concrete
  • 88 million pounds of plate steel and outlet pipes
  • 6.7 million pounds of pipe and fittings
  • 45 million pounds of reinforced steel
  • 726 feet (221 meters) above Black Canyon
  • 660 feet (201 meters) wide at the base
  • 1,244 feet (379 meters) across at the top
  • It weighs 6.6 million tons
  • Lake Mead, created by the building of the dam, can hold 9 trillion gallons of water


Leaving Las Vegas – For Death Valley!

What had been planned as a day trip with a group of photographers experiencing Death Valley National Park turned into a much-needed day of solitude for me as a winter snowstorm hit Las Vegas and everyone else canceled. Yes. Las Vegas gets snow occasionally!


They Cancelled the Tour

Really? Did they cancel? Awe Shucks!! I smiled to myself when told of the changes.  It had been a while since I last visited Death Valley and I already knew that I could really use some time alone in my favorite place of peace and tranquility!  So I just decided that I was going it alone.  Come snowstorm or high water, I am going to go to Death Valley as planned!!

Normally I would head up through Pahrump, Nevada, home to the closest legal brothels to Las Vegas.  But I knew the mountain pass was going to be chancy with snow and ice. So I took the back route. Up to Amargosa Valley. Over to Death Valley Junction and into my favorite place, Death Valley National Park!

Once I got past JackAss Flats, the snow cleared out and the roads opened up as the sunshine led the way.  Yes, I know. I grew up in Minnesota, the land of snow and ice. But it doesn’t mean that I liked driving in it. So I avoid it as much as possible in the mountains around here!   Jeep or no Jeep, I don’t need to deal with that white stuff today!

Death Valley has always been my favorite place for peace. I don’t even remember the last time I was there and that tells me it has been way too long.  So I was really looking forward to this trip, even if the others had canceled.  A silly little blizzard was not going to stop me!

Once I found myself on the other side of the snowstorm,  the sunshine brought a smile to my face and the peace of the valley started to really hit me. I was there.  In the land of absolute peace, quiet and some of the most amazing views on earth. Death Valley never disappoints.

Furnace Creek Death Valley

Not in the Las Vegas Snow Storm of 2021!

Not What I Was Expecting

With California under a more severe lockdown than Nevada, I was actually expecting something worse than what I found.  First, no people.  That’s not what I was expecting. I was actually expecting a overran cluster (you know). Like the last time the government shut everything down.  Secondly, the park was very clean, even with all the openness.  As with number one, the last time the State had mandated closures, the National Parks were overrun with people violating the rules and making the parks into a first-rate dump. Not this time!

This time I think I saw maybe three cars at each overlook and the overlooks were clean and tidy. Nothing running over or litter spread everywhere.  It was actually a clean park! And I was there, all alone in my own solitude. It was heaven!

The downside to this was that I was wanting to avoid any chance of having to deal with the snow and ice on the return trip, in the dark.  So I made quick stops where I wanted to then headed out the other side, towards Beatty. And you can’t leave Death Valley that way without stopping to visit the ghost town of Rhyolite.  Or at least I can’t.  But before I got to the turn-off, there was a small family of wild burros on the side of the road, watching traffic go by.  Photo Stop!

Wild Burro

The Locals Are Disappearing

Every year, the chances of seeing these beautiful creatures get smaller and smaller.  So I take advantage of seeing them when I can! This family was a little camera shy and kept moving further away from me the more I stood my ground.  But it was still a nice thing to see.

A quick stop in Rhyolite, then off to Eddie World for fuel, food, and candy. Especially candy. Eddie World has candy from my childhood. Even the candy cigarettes!  I always stop there for a standing order of licorice sticks and a few bags of Good-n-Plenty (pound bags!).  Then straight home before it started to get dark and the roads iced over again…

Related Links

Rock A Hoola Waterpark 2012 Video

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Some quick video I shot in September of 2012 at the abandoned Rock-a-Hoola waterpark just outside of Barstow, CA. Over the years, I have been watching the slow and sad death of this park from a once almost pristine, ready to open status, to this graffiti-filled skeleton remains and hangout of who knows what.

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On my trips first few to California to start a tour in 2006 and 2007, I would occasionally stop and talk with the maintenance man who lived on the property. In our last conversation, he told me the place had been sold to some Japanese developers who had plans to turn the land into high-end condominiums.  The economy tanked in 2008 and that’s when I suspect he left.  The trailer house he lived in vanished about that time and the destruction began in earnest.

In the video, you may notice a black SUV with dark window tint that was parked alongside one of the abandoned buildings – with its engine running… yea, a good sign that I should probably leave quickly and I did…

The remnants of Rock-A-Hoola Waterpark


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Park History

The park was originally designed and built by local businessman Bob Byers for use by his extended family. Lake Dolores was named after Byers’ wife. The initial phases of conception, planning, and construction took place in the late 1950s and early 1960s. An expanse of arid land on the eastern edge of the Mojave Desert 100 yards from Interstate 15 was chosen for the project. Lake Dolores, the body of water, is a 273-acre man-made lake fed by underground springs.

Over the next 25 years, rides and attractions were added, and the site evolved into a waterpark, which was advertised on television with the slogan “The Fun Spot of The Desert!”. The park saw its peak attendance between the early 1970s and the mid-1980s. After a downturn in popularity in the late 1980s, the park closed.

It had been opened and closed multiple times. The final incarnation was “Discovery Lake” and was open 2003/2004.

(This is a repost of a defunct YT channel I had in 2012)

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Update: March 2020, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors approved a General Plan amendment and a conditional use permit that allows developers to restore the abandoned water park. Plans include rehabbing the 41-acre former water park; restoring the 22-acre lake and 2-acre pond for boating, swimming and camping; and additional office and administration space, commercial and retail.
Read: SBSUN.com Plans to restore abandoned water park along 15 Freeway near Barstow move forward

(H/T Wikipedia)