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Warning: Immature dam puns ahead. I just had to.
Way back on day four, we visited the Colorado River and the grandest of canyons that it carved through northern Arizona. Ten days later, we were back to where the river separates Nevada from Arizona at Black Canyon, downstream from the Grand Canyon, where the most impressive of dams was constructed.
It should come as no surprise by now that our day started early, as always. The dam visitor center opened at 9:00 and tours are first come, first served so we were intent on being part of that first tour group.
After driving across the rim to the dam parking lot on the Arizona side (the first free lot past the paid ones), we walked back across the dam to Nevada where the tour would begin.
Sunrise over Lake Mead from our hotel room window
Our large tour group watched a movie about the dam history and construction, and then descended 500 feet in a six mile per hour elevator to the dam bottom. An old construction tunnel with unfinished rocky walls led us to a viewing area for the 30-foot diameter pipes that bring water from the intake towers to the power generators. After more information about these inner workings of the dam from our knowledgeable tour guide, we continued on to another viewing platform in one wing of generators. From this room, power is generated for cities in three states including most of Los Angeles.
Jeff and Gavin continued on to tour the bowels of the dam. Jasper missed the age limit for the remainder of the tour so he and I returned to the visitor center to browse at the dam exhibits and outdoor observation deck.
The power generator room is located in the building at the dam base with the tall windows. The room we toured is mirrored on the closer, Nevada side of the river.
When the tour concluded, we joined together again and took a leisurely stroll back across the dam to Arizona. And this is where my report on the day takes an odd turn and I start talking about bathrooms. But, seriously, you have to see the dam bathrooms! I absolutely adore the art deco architecture of Depression-era construction projects (I’m looking at you, Empire State Building) and the bathroom is a step back in time. The terrazzo floor, jade walls, and brass fixtures are gorgeous! I did stop myself from taking photos inside the actual bathroom, but only because other tourists had the nerve to use them for their intended purpose and not as an art gallery. Priorities, people.
The boys had enough of the dam, but Mom still wanted to get the overall, distant view from the bypass bridge. As recently as 2010, traffic on US-93 between Nevada and Arizona flowed across the top of the dam, but the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge changed that, easing traffic off the dam structure and providing a breathtaking view of the dam for visitors.
There is a lot with ample parking off the dam access road from which a short foot path leads up to the bridge. A pedestrian walkway is separated from vehicular traffic by a high divider that prevents drivers from seeing the dam, which could be understandably distracting to those behind the wheel! I snapped a few photos, took advantage of a few rare minutes of solitude and made my way back to my boys to begin the drive out of Nevada.
We needed to make it to Bryce Canyon by nightfall and chose a less-beaten path north from the dam through the Lake Mead National Recreation Area rather than returning to Las Vegas to pick up the interstate. We had our packed lunch ready to go and found covered picnic tables less than a mile into the park with a splendid view of the dam reservoir, the largest of its kind in the country. On this adventure, sometimes we ate our packed meal of the day in the car and other times we had incredible views like this one! This day was definitely one of the best packed lunch experiences.
The remaining 70 miles through the park took an hour and a half to drive down a slowly winding road through rocky terrain and a dry desert landscape. We saw less than a dozen other vehicles during this time and caught up with the crowds on I-15 not far from the Arizona border. Near this junction, we passed through Moapa Valley which earned the distinction of recording the highest temperature of our entire trip on this early afternoon – 88 degrees. Side note: I’ll never be able to own a vehicle without a dashboard outdoor thermometer again! It sure came in handy on this trip!
We continued on the interstate through the northwest tip of Arizona, watching dust devils dance just off the road, and entered our tenth state – Utah!
Southern Utah is prime dinosaur excavation territory and we visited our first dinosaur museum in St. George. The Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm is a unique dinosaur track museum. Only 15 years ago, preserved dinosaur tracks were discovered in the rock at this site. Rather than excavating and bringing the finds to a far away museum, the museum building was built directly over the site and excavation is ongoing. The self-guided site tour takes less than an hour to complete, but its fascinating retracing of brief moments in these lives from millions of years ago was fascinating.
Not long before we left for our trip, I suddenly started hearing people talk about a “good food quickly” restaurant chain (obligatory Seinfeld reference) called Culver’s which specializes in meals with custard concretes. Considering that our favorite ice cream in the world is Goodberry’s custard concretes in Raleigh, we had to give this chain a try. We stopped at a Culver’s in St. George for dinner before the final push to Bryce and were … underwhelmed. Goodberry’s smooth, creamy perfection sets the bar unattainably high and this average soft-serve from Culver’s simply didn’t stand a chance. It was a good meal and served us well, but we won’t be campaigning for a Culver’s in North Carolina anytime soon.
From St. George, the most direct route to Bryce is directly through Zion National Park. Early on in the trip planning process, I had to make several decisions regarding the gorgeous National Parks of the southwest and, unfortunately, Zion got the axe. We simply didn’t have time to visit them all while heading all the way to California. We will definitely explore this park in much greater detail someday, but we were at least happy to drive through to get a taste on this lovely May evening.
Just before Zion is the town of Springdale, home to all of the lodging for park visitors and quite a charming little town. The park’s shuttle bus route stops at several locations in town, making car-less access to the park easy. We made mental notes for a future visit.
The road through park itself is only twelve miles long and what incredible views we saw just from that main cross road! We drove through the mile-long Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel, viewed Checkerboard Mesa from a viewpoint, and stopped several times along the way to take in the breathtaking scenery. Overall, this was the best possible scenic route we could have chosen!
Still an hour away from our destination, we kept our eyes peeled to the grassy fields beside UT-89 where we saw more deer than ever eating their breakfasts at dusk. We easily saw several hundred deer over dozens of miles.
We finally reached Ruby’s Inn after nightfall, relieved to stay put for the entire day ahead and enjoy a rare multi-night stay at the same motel.
We kept the clock in the car on Eastern time for the entire trip so we’d always know what time it was back home.