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Hoover Dam Quirky Sites, Hoover Dam, Arizona/Nevada

Louise Speaks:  We have been to Las Vegas many times and have been to both Hoover Dam and the Pat Tilman Memorial Bridge / By Pass many times, but I never knew of the Quirky things until recently.  Since we are heading to Las Vegas once again, we decided to complete the list of Quirky sites and see them all today.

When going to Las Vegas from Arizona you must now go over the By Pass bridge and back track back to the dam.  It’s not like in the old days when you actually drove over the dam to get from Arizona to Las Vegas.  So we drove over the dam, found a place to park and then walked back to find all these quirky stops we just had to see.

Our first stop was the “Memorial to the Hoover Dam Dead”. Lots of men died during the building of Hoover Dam.  They fell from sheer rock faces, drowned in water, succumbed to dynamite explosions and many equipment accidents.  According to official accounts, no worker was ever lost to a concrete pour.  The pouring was only done 2 inches at a time, and there were lots of workers watching over each other for trouble.  While no one is buried at the dam, a memorial was constructed to remember the 96 men tallied as industrial fatalities.  A low-relief panel by sculptor Oskar J. W. Hansen, dedicated in 1935, shows a naked male emerging from waves in front of the dam.  A thunder cloud spits lightning bolts, stalks of grain sprout, and fruits and vegetables flourish.  The monument states: “They died to make the desert bloom.”

Only a few feet away from the Memorial to the Dead are the “Winged Figures of the Republic”.  These are a pair of angular, giant figures of humanoids with wings that stand 30 feet tall.  They guard the 142 foot American flag pole.  Sculptor Oskar Hansen, responsible for most of the dam’s various heroic and mythical artwork, made the figures from more than four tons of bronze. They sit on bases of black diorite. This stylish monument to the dam was dedicated in 1935.  In an odd astrological touch, the monument is surrounded by a terrazzo floor with a celestial chart which shows the exact position of key stars on the day the Hoover Dam was dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt. The star map would assist a future civilization of giant flying humans to pinpoint the date as September 30, 1935.  The diagram shows the night sky the night the wings were dedicated.

The figures have been weathered to a green patina, but the toes are burnished to a soft gold by countless tourist hands.  You see rumor has it that on your way to Las Vegas, for luck you are to rub the angels toes…all 10 of them, with all 10 of your fingers.  So of course we did the rubbing….more than once.
Continuing walking along the Nevada side of the dam, and just a few feet from the Wings is the resting place of, “Dog of the Dam”. The story of this dog is quite interesting.  In 1932 a part-Labrador puppy with a jet black coat and a white blaze on his chest was said to have been born in the crawlspace beneath the first police building in Boulder City.  A laborer for Six Companies, the joint venture of construction companies building Hoover dam, began bringing him to the worksite while he was still a puppy, and he became a welcome addition to the workforce.  Political correctness did not occur to the men of the time, and they called the dog ”Nig.”The dog was as sure-footed as any mountain goat and made his way around the canyon and on the construction catwalks that the men used to navigate the dam.  Nig could climb up ladders and he followed the men into tunnels without fear.  Just as the men did, Nig arrived on the transport that brought workers from Boulder City where they stayed.  When the end-of-day whistle blew, Nig, too, lined up at the elevators to leave with the men.  But Nig was happy with just about any type of conveyance and sometimes hopped aboard the train servicing the area and was also once seen in the front seat of a black Cadillac belonging to an executive touring the site. According to Building Hoover Dam, an oral history of the project, the man’s wife was riding in the back seat, and the men were sure Nig was grinning.  The commissary even prepared meals for Nig, and just as they did for the men, they prepared a bag lunch for Nig. Each day Nig picked up his lunch with his mouth when the men did, and Nig left his lunch in the line where the men left theirs.  At noontime, he waited for one of the men to unwrap his meal for him, and he and the men all enjoyed their noon break together.

On February 21, 1941, it was unseasonably hot and Nig looked for shade under an idling truck.  Sadly the driver was unaware that Nig had crawled under the rig, and as the driver moved away from the site, Nig was crushed beneath the truck’s wheels. “Rough, tough rock-hard men wept openly and unashamed,” a newspaper wrote.  Nig was buried in a concrete crypt near the Nevada abutment and memorialized with a plague identifying him as a dog that adopted a dam.  But in the late 1970s the plaque became controversial.  A Wisconsin tourist complained to a Reclamation Bureau supervisor.  The on-site supervisor ignored the complaint but the fellow, a professor, went home to Madison, Wisconsin and complained to his Congressional representatives.

On March 21 1979, the plaque was removed; many Boulder City residents were very upset by this treatment of the “construction crew mascot,” and the local people petitioned Bureau of Reclamation to reinstate the plaque.  Eventually the locals prevailed, but a new plaque was put up that told the story of the dog who adopted a dam but it left off the dog’s name.  When the men poured the concrete in which to place the plaque, they took matters into their own hands.  They scratched the word “Nig” in the concrete itself so that everyone would know the name of the loyal dog who was beloved by all black and white workers alike.  As I had mentioned in the write up about the Memorial to the Dead, it says no one is buried at the dam, but Nig is and it is quite an impressive crypt, with plaque, picture and story.

Continuing along the sidewalk and just before you reach the Hoover Dam gift shop and the High Scaler Cafe is the “Hoover Dam High Scaler Monument”.  The monument includes the names of workers who perished during the building of the dam.  This larger-than life sculpture of a man scaling a rock wall represents a “high scaler.”  In the 1930s, fearless, dam workers would dangle hundreds of feet in the air, armed with jackhammers to jar loose rocks and dynamite to blast away at the canyon walls.  Lots of men died in this occupation and others in creating the immense structure that turns Lake Mead into electricity.

The bronze figure was created in the 1990s by sculptor Steven Liguori, in conjunction with a group of concessionaires who operate the businesses on government property around the landmark.  The statue was based on a photo, of Joe Kine, one of the last of the high scalers  who worked on the Hoover Dam project.  Upon completion the statue was presented to Joe on September 30, 1995, Hoover Dam’s sixtieth anniversary.  The statue was installed in 1998, and hangs against a dramatic cliff face.

All 4 stops can be viewed by just walking across the dam from the Arizona side to the Nevada side.  There is also a visitors center, a parking garage and tours below than dam can also be taken from this location.  Between these 4 Quirky stops, the dam itself and the By Pass Bridge, one could easily spend a good portion of a day here, especially if you have never been to the dam before.  Very interesting stop and a bit of history along the way.  Definitely worth a stop.

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Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, Superior, AZ

Louise Speaks:  After 4 days at Roper Lake State Park it is time to head on home.  Our last stop and only about 50 miles from our Mesa home is yet another State Park.  Different from the others, but is listed as a state park, because the state parks manage the upkeep. Although I had been by here many times I had never stopped.  I guess living in Arizona where you see cacti and desert plants all  the time it just didn’t seem important to stop.  However, having stopped today, I really wish I had stopped here before and maybe taken my children.  A very unusual place and being that it is April, many of the cactus flowers are blooming so it is quite spectacular.  The weather today is perfect as well, not too hot and a very nice breeze is blowing.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum is the largest and oldest botanical garden in the state of Arizona.  The Arboretum has a visitor center, gift shop, research offices, greenhouses, a demonstration garden, picnic area, and a looping 1.5-mile primary trail that leads you through various exhibits and natural areas.  There is so much to see that you feel like it is much further than 1.5 miles, The exhibits include a cactus garden, palm and eucalyptus groves, an Australian exhibit, South American exhibit, aloe garden and an herb garden. There are also side trails such as the Chihuahuan Trail, Curandero Trail, and High Trail.  We missed the suspension bridge so I guess that means I have to come back.

The arboretum was founded by William Boyce Thompson, a mine engineer.  In the early 1920s, Thompson, enamored with the landscape around Superior, built The Picket Post house,  overlooking Queen Creek.  The impressive 7,000 sq ft mansion, can still be seen,  perched atop the volcanic magma cliffs just east of the Arboretum.  This was the winter home of the founder, Colonel Thompson.  The mansion was sold and remained in private hands for decades, but was re-acquired by Arizona State Parks in 2008.  Arizona State Parks  cooperatively manages the “castle on the hill,” which was suppose to  re-open for occasional tours in 2009.  The house looks pretty good, but when I asked about it, I was told it was not inhabitable as it is not up to code.  Seems like a beautiful structure to just let sit and rot.  I would think someone would find a way to make it up to code so that it could be seen and toured again. In doing my research,  apparently a special tour was conducted just this past January and the photos of the inside are just incredible.  I would gladly have paid the additional fee to tour the mansion.  Hopefully this will soon become a regular option.  Yup, another reason to come back.

Boyce Thompson definitely had a vision.  He wrote: “I have in mind far more than mere botanical propagation. I hope to benefit the State and the Southwest by the addition of new products. A plant collection will be assembled which will be of interest not only to the nature lover and the plant student, but which will stress the practical side, as well to see if we cannot make these mesas, hillsides, and canyons far more productive and of more benefit to mankind. We will bring together and study the plants of the desert countries, find out their uses, and make them available to the people. It is a big job, but we will build here the most beautiful, and at the same time the most useful garden of its kind in the world.”  It seems like he did just what he intended to do.  This place is huge and so well organized.  The gardens are separate and everything is labeled so you can see what they are.

The Boyce Thompson Southwestern Arboretum was established on April 1, 1924, by hiring its first two employees.  Their first project was the construction of two homes that still exist on site, the Crider House and the Gibson House.  Propagation buildings were put up in 1925 and by 1926, the Smith Building which was the administration building, and the first visitor center.  Two connecting greenhouses were later built.   You are able to go into this building and the green houses.  Ayer Lake, named after Charles Ayer,  was created the same year to help irrigate the lower portion of the park.  Ayer Lake is the source of irrigation water for the entire collection plants.  The lake gets it’s water from Queen Creek.  There’s a shallow well located in the canyon just east of the suspension bridge that spans Queen Creek and leads to the High Trail. Water from the well is piped up and over the cliffs, then flows downhill through a drainage to the lake, entering at the east end. If you’re walking near the Picket Post Mansion, listen and look for the artificial “waterfall” splashing down from the cliffs above when the lake is being refilled!  The Desert Pupfish and the Gila Top Minnow live in Ayer Lake.  They are both endangered fish and are used by Game & Fish to stock other bodies of water where the fish have died off.

In 1927, the Boyce Thompson Southwest Arboretum was incorporated, becoming the first non-profit research organization in Arizona.  The chief attraction at the Arboretum is the system of nature trails, with over two miles of combined length that weave through the botanical gardens. bThese gardens represent the “living museum” of plants capable of living in the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona.  Many are native species; others have been introduced.  A series of shady interpretive ramadas are located along the Main Loop Trail to provide a place to relax, get out of the sun, and learn about the Arboretum’s plants, animals, natural and human history.

As you approach the Arboretum on Highway 60 you’ll see towering Picketpost Mountain dominating the southern horizon.  The Arboretum brings together plants from the Earth’s many and varied deserts and dry lands and displays them alongside unspoiled examples of the native Sonoran Desert vegetation.  No matter what the season, you will enjoy a moving and memorable experience of the beauty, majesty, and mystery of arid land plants.  Who would have thought that desert plants could be so beautiful.  You will also enjoy the many natural communities that form the arid land environment. You will see so many plants, flowers and trees as you as you walk the Main Loop.  It is a very easy walk with many shaded areas.  There are park benches along the way as well as water fountains for drinking and water bowls for your pets.  You will also find peaceful reflection in the cool shade of towering trees in Queen Creek Canyon; and intellectual stimulation in the many and varied displays at the Smith Interpretive Center.  In 1976 the Arboretum became part of the Arizona State Park system.

Like I said I have been by here numerous times and had never stopped.  We spent several hours here just wondering and enjoying all the desert bloom.  This was the perfect day for this adventure, although we were told there is something in bloom all year long.  This attraction is right off Hwy. 60 and I would recommend it to everyone.  I’m sure visitors from places other than the desert will find this to be one of the most beautiful and informative sites they have seen.  Local Arizonians should find it equally interesting and enjoyable because we don’t usually see so many plants, trees and flowers in one place.  The Boyce Thompson Arboretum gets an A+ rating.  It is a MUST see!



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Roper Lake State Park, Safford, AZ

Louise Speaks:  Seeing that we only visited one attraction today, we arrived at our camping spot rather early.  This is a good thing.  We had never been to Roper Lake State Park before so we were excited to get here.  This makes our 20th state park and one that you can camp at.  What a great place.  The RV spots are huge and are truly on the lake, of course many of my family and friends in Canada would call it a pond.  Each RV spot comes with it’s own covered Ramada with picnic table so you can be in the shade.  There is a swimming beach and electric boat motors are allowed.  The lake is stocked with bass and trout.  The park is an excellent place for bird watching. This state park even has small cabins to rent if you don’t have an RV and you’re not into tenting.  However, the cabins have beds and air conditioning but that’s about it.  There is an outdoor cooking area with a huge BBQ and restrooms and showers are close by.  The cabins come with a porch swing that faces the lake and of course one of Arizona’s famous sunsets.

Roper Lake sits on a natural hot springs.  This was discovered many years back and as a result they made a natural hot springs hot tub…very unusual for a state park.  It is small and only gets to about 92 degrees, but is very pleasant in both winter and summer.  As with most state parks there are many nature hiking trails throughout the park and around the lake.  The swimming beach is off a peninsula off one of the camping loops.  They have an outside shower for rinsing off once you come in from the water.  The shower is unique as it is shaped into a cactus…so Arizona.  There are Ramadas and picnic BBQ grills throughout the beach area.  The beach comes complete with beach sand and palm trees.  Today is a very VERY windy day so we didn’t even test the water, but looks like a great place to cool off in the heat of the summer.  We are told that temperatures can climb to as high as 120 degrees during the summer months.

For a number of years, Graham County had been working with its legislators to have a State Park in their county. In 1972, HB 2150 authorized the acquisition of Roper Lake as a State Park.  Although it wasn’t that easy to make Roper Lake a state park.  Much engineering and negotiations took place before things became official.  The main part of the Park, located around Roper Lake, was developed in the early 1960’s as a private recreation area.  The lake and the property were sold to the Arizona Game and Fish Commission in 1969 so it really couldn’t become a state park…the state didn’t own it.  State Parks began negotiations with the Game and Fish Department to secure an acceptable agreement wherein State Parks would operate and manage Roper Lake.  Finally on December 31, 1974, Roper Lake State Park became official.  The Park opened to the public in March 1975 but was nothing compared to what it is today.

Roper Lake offers a park store that has books, clothing, children’s toys, flora and fauna guides, fishing equipment and bait.  The Visitor Center is open year round and features a gift shop, local area information, Junior Ranger programs, and restrooms.    This is a great State Park.  All the amenities are very easily accessible and everything is just a short walk away.  Although the weather wasn’t the greatest during our four day stay, we still enjoyed the park.  It is being put on our list as a park to come back to and maybe spend a week.  Roper Lake State Park gets an A rating, and we will be back.