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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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Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, Coolidge, AZ

Louise Speaks:  Heading SE and not too far from McFarland State Historic Park are the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument.  The national monument consists of the ruins of multiple structures surrounded by a compound wall constructed by the ancient people of the Hohokam period, who farmed the Gila Valley  in the early 13th century.  Archeologists have discovered evidence that the ancient Sonoran Desert people who built the Casa Grande also developed wide-scale irrigation farming and extensive trade connections which lasted over a thousand years.  The ruins are situated in the flat plain of central Arizona in between the Gila and Santa Cruz rivers, just north of Coolidge and about 15 miles from the larger town of Casa Grande.



Casa Grande is Italian and Spanish for “big house” .  These names refer to the largest structure on the site, which is what remains of a four story structure that may have been abandoned by 1450. The structure is made of calich,  and has managed to survive the extreme weather conditions for about seven centuries.  The large house consists of outer rooms surrounding an inner structure.  The outer rooms are all three stories high, while the inner structure is four stories high.  The structures were constructed using traditional adobe processes.  The wet adobe is thicker at the base and adds significant strength. Horizontal cracks can be noticed and this defines the breaks between courses on the thick outer walls.  The process consisted of using damp adobe to form the walls and then waiting for it to dry, and then building it up with more adobe.   Father Kino  was the first European to view the Hohokam complex in November 1694 and named it Casa Grande. Graffiti  from 19th-century passers-by is scratched into its walls; though this is now illegal.

Casa Grande Ruins became the first prehistoric and cultural reserve in the US.  It was then re-designated a national monument by President Woodrow Wilson on August 3, 1918.  As with all historical areas administered by the National Park Service, Casa Grande was listed on the National Register of Historic Places  on October 15, 1966.  The structure was once part of a collection of settlements scattered along the Gila River and linked by a network of irrigation canals.  The area has a low elevation and hence is very hot – often over 110°F for several months in the summer.  During spring, this part of Arizona is sometimes the hottest place in the whole USA, and even in winter, daytime temperatures can reach 80°F.  We are lucky, there is a slight breeze out and the weather is quite nice.


However, due to the extreme heat, in 1932, a Ramada  was built to shelter the ruins from weathering.  It was made of wood and tin and other than protection from the wind, didn’t really help to protect.  In the early 21st century, a pair of Great horned owls  took up residence in the rafters of that shelter.  Over the years the shelter had to be replaced.  The current protective structure covering the “Great House” replaced the previous ramada and was  built of steel with steel pillars able to stand 100 mph gusts of wind, which is common in this area.  Due to the fragile nature of the “Great House”, visitors to the site are not permitted inside.  Observation is permitted outside the structure only for visitors to protect its integrity.

Touring the ruins is done by self guided tours or if fortunate like we were, you arrive at a time when a schedule tour is taking place.  These volunteer tour guides can give you more information than you can read in the pamphlets handed out.  The scale of the ruin is best appreciated from close up – it is 60 feet by 40 feet wide at the base and the walls are over a meter thick.  Although visitors are not allowed into the building owing to its delicate state, much can be seen from outside including details of the construction with wooden beams supporting the clay walls, and various internal features such as stairways and windows. However, besides the protective canopy, the interior contains other modern items such as re-enforcing beams, metal ladders and measuring devices on the walls, all contributing to the slightly unnatural scene.  I know this building has been up for years, but it is deteriorating.  They are trying to keep the walls standing, but it appears it is just a matter of time before the ruins will crumble.

If you have followed along with our blog over the years, you know we have seen many, many adobe structures throughout Arizona and New Mexico.  This was an interesting stop if you are visiting Arizona, but I would not make a point of stopping here again.  I know I live here and it is a piece of history, but it is an old adobe structure that is falling apart.  I guess that alone is interesting, but I’m not much into history.  We stopped, because it is on our list of National Monuments so we can cross it off, but I’m only giving it a rating of a C, because it just didn’t impress me.


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McFarland State Historic Park, Florence, AZ

Louise Speaks:  A busy day today.  We have 3 stops before we camp for the night.  Our fist stop is the McFarland State Historic Park in Florence.  The building itself was the first Pinal County Courthouse.  The main entrance was the sheriffs office and the gift shop was the jail.  It still has a barred window.  As you walk through separate rooms you can see that these were offices.   Finally you reach the old court room which was a pretty good size for it’s time.  We were very fortunate today that the volunteer working had quite a bit of history to share with us and gave us a tour of the building…along with much history.

The historic park consists of a preserved courthouse and other buildings dating to the Arizona Territory period.  The original structure was built in 1878 with the addition of the jail in 1882 and the courthouse in 1891.  The courthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  McFarland Park commemorates Ernest McFarland  (1894-1984), who is the only known American to have served his state in three of the highest branches of government.   McFarland successively was a US Senator, the Governor of Arizona and Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court.

McFarland acquired the building when the State Parks Board was first made aware that the old courthouse in Florence was for sale.  The meeting on May 31, 1973 disclosed the information and had to decide to tear it down or fix it.  A preliminary investigation was made to determine what the costs might be to restore the structure.  McFarland spoke of the historical significance of the first courthouse in Florence and fought to keep it standing.  As a result, McFarland purchased the Courthouse for $8,000, and  offered to donate the structure to the Board.  He also pledged to give his personal collection, an endowment of $27,000, and to deposit $40,000 of Mountain States Telephone Bonds in the State Park Fund.  The monies were to be used for the restoration and preservation of the courthouse.  McFarland State Historic Park was opened and dedicated in his honor on October 10, 1979.   The park was later closed because of Arizona State Parks budget cuts.  But, thanks to generous donations McFarland Park reopened once again in  February 2011 after more repairs and renovations. This state park does not charge any admission to tour the building or the museum.  It is funded strictly by donations.

The museum itself has many exhibits that tell how the west was won.  In the entrance is a huge mirror with a bullet hole in it.  Turns out this was the result of a gun fight between two ex lawmen.  This gun fight is said to be even more famous than the one at the OK Corral, …it just wasn’t made into a movie.  The old treasures office and vault are still visible as are some of the medical instruments on display when the courthouse was used as a hospital.

This was a very interesting and informative stop.  Our guide had so much information and answered so many questions.  We supported the gift shop by buying  many souvenirs including some baked goods.  Turns out all the items we purchased including the bread and cookies were made by the prisoners at the State Prison just up the street in Florence.  The whole stop was interesting and the stories just added to the fun.  For a free stop with so much to see and do, you just have to make a short detour and visit this State Park.  Not only is it free, it is a true part of Arizona history and gets a B rating.  Don’t forget to visit historic Florence and see the second courthouse with it’s towering clock tower.  And if inclined, go by the prison as well…you can literally drive by the courtyard and watch the inmates play basketball.