Bledsoe 2012 Western Tour travel blog

Bridge across Colorado River

Looking down from top of dam

Power generators

Looking up

Old turbine wheel

Across dam from top

Canyon wall

Wahweap panorama

After a morning of doing nothing, and enjoying every minute of it, we jaunted down to the visitor center at Glen Canyon dam and signed up for a tour of the "bowels" of this monumental concrete dike. Once past the same rigorous security inspection as an airport we were escorted to an elevator and sent down about 100 ft to the top of the dam.

There we were shown exhibits pertaining to the construction of the dam and associated hydroelectric generators, including this recently removed turbine wheel. Glen Canyon was not constructed to provide power, rather it was created to hold water to ensure downstream communities and states a constant and plentiful supply of fresh water for homes and agriculture. And it took over seventeen years after construction was complete to fill the lake. The hydro power was just a bonus, and quite a bonus it is.

After numerous photos looking over the edge of the dam (yes, that's grass down there)

and the nearby highway bridge built for the dam construction project (now carrying US 89)we entered another elevator and descended another 500 ft to the base of the dam. Walking through one of the many inspection tunnels created to watch seepage and cracks in the concrete we were nearly at river level.

Looking up (a very difficult task by the way) to the top of dam you realize just how difficult it was to construct this massive structure. At the peak of construction nearly three thousand laborers worked twelve hour shifts to pour enough concrete to build a two land highway from Phoenix to Chicago.

Inside the power station four of the eight generators were purring away, providing electricity for homes in a five state area. Each of the eight generators is receiving a nine month upgrade that should allow them to keep running another 50 years. Notice the new turbine wheel on the floor ready to be installed. Each wheel weighs over 80 tons and is manufactured in Brazil.

Returning to the visitor center we talked with a very knowledgeable NPS ranger about the lake's current level. Seems this area is still suffering from a twelve year drought but due to contractual agreements when the dam was built a set amount of water must be released downstream. Not enough rainfall and a growing demand have sent the water level down 77 feet since the last time it was full in 1999. Not to worry, it would take decades more to drain the 164 mile long Lake Powell but it still concerns the BLM folks. The white rock on the canyon wall indicates where the water level was; the folks here joke about it being the lake's bathtub ring.

After several more side trips to lake overlooks we steered our way back to Wahweap. As you can see from this panorama this is a very large recreation area, only one of three in the region on this lake. This is the only one, though, with a lodge.

Tomorrow is an all day boat excursion to Rainbow Bridge National Monument. Weather, once again, is predicted to be blue skies, high around 90. Same old thing, but I don't care.

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