Day 21 - Grand Canyon NP to Vegas (cont)  
    Not so sure I would want to take off in this plane.    
Minolta XD7 with 24mm f/2.8 MC VFC W.Rokkor Film: Kodak Portra 400UC

After my amazing morning photographing the dawn I went back to our room and met David for breakfast. We had a journey of approximately 260 miles ahead of us, from the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas. It is hard to imagine two more different places - one where the hand of man can barely be seen next to the granduer of nature, and the other an edifice to man's control over the environment, where seemingly not a trace of nature still exists.

We left the Grand Canyon and headed south, towards Williams, where we would join Interstate 40 and head west. About 25 miles from the canyon we came to the town of Valle, home to the "Planes of Fame" air museum. Being keen history buffs, and with an interest in planes we decided to break our drive and visit the museum.

The "Planes of Fame" air museum is a true warbird sanctuary. Situated at two sites (the other is at Chino Airport in California) the museum has a vast array of different planes and historical items to view. The Valle site is the smaller of the two museums, but was still comfortably big enough to hold David's and my interest for over an hour, with over 30 planes on display in different states of restoration.

The restored Messerschmitt ME-109G-10 'Gustav' in the display hanger at "Planes of Fame".
Minolta XD7 with 24mm f/2.8 MC VFC W.Rokkor Film: Kodak Portra 400UC

The planes at the museum weren't just all Second World War models, with many older and more recent aircraft also represented. The plane shown below is a Siemens-Schukert D.IV from 1918, which has been fully restored to flying condition.

The Siemens-Schukert D.IV - nearly 90 years old and still flying!
Minolta XD7 with 24mm f/2.8 MC VFC W.Rokkor Film: Kodak Portra 400UC

Outside the hanger there are numerous other exhibits, in differing stages of restoration. A favourite for me was the magnificent MiG-15. First flown in 1948, the MiG-15 was powered by an engine based upon the Rolls-Royce Nene centrifugal flow turbojet engine, the manufacturing details of which the Soviet Union obtained in 1946 before the commencement of the Cold War. I bet the British regretted that decision later!

Originally designed as a bomber interceptor, it was fitted with two 23mm cannon with 80 rounds per gun, and one 37mm cannon with 40 rounds. The limited rate of fire of these weapons made it less effective against fast moving fighters, but with a top speed of 650 mph it was demonstrably superior to anything flown by the West until the introduction of the F-86 Sabre in 1950.

The beautiful and deadly MiG-15.
Minolta X-570 with 35mm f/1.8 MD W.Tele Rokkor Film: Fuji Superia Reala
My favourite photo from the day - MiG-15
Minolta X-570 with 17mm f/4 MC W.Rokkor-X Film: Fuji Superia Reala

Outside the front of the museum, facing the road, is a Lockheed C-121A Constellation, another beautiful airplane. Manufactured from 1943 to 1958, it is a four engined, propellor driven airliner that served as both an air-cargo plane for the US airforce as well as a civilian air liner. Immediately recognisable due to its triple-tail design, the Constellation was used as a presdential and vice presidential transport during its life. In fact, the example at the "Planes of Fame" museum was once used as the official aircraft for the US Vice-President.

The majestic Lockheed C-121A Constellation..
Minolta X-570 with 35mm f/1.8 MD W.Rokkor Film: Fuji Superia Reala

As we left the museum a large group of bikers arrived, and parked their bikes in a row outside the entrance. Never one to miss an opportunity for a photo, I took a moment to snap a couple of shots.

Riding through the desert on one of these must be a thrilling experience.
Minolta X-570 with 50mm f/1.2 MD Rokkor-X Film: Fuji Superia Reala

Back on the road we headed down towards the I-40, and eventually met it at Williams. We stopped for some fuel at a gas station and then headed west towards Las Vegas.

OK, so the ATM is safe, but what about my car while I am inside getting the cash?
Minolta X-570 with 35mm f/1.8 MD W.Rokkor-X Film: Fuji Superia Reala

The I-40 that we had joined was once a part of the famous Route 66, the trans-american highway that ran from Chicago to Santa-Monica, California. It was commissioned in 1926, picking up bits and pieces of existing roads, and is 2448 miles (approximately 4000 kilometres) in length, crossing eight states and three time zones.

Route 66 now exists only in song and legend, as the interstates have replaced it completely, and it is no longer shown on any maps. There is still signage that refers to it as "Historic Route 66", and all along its length there are little remiders as to the road's heritage.

The legend of Route 66 lives on, at least in marketing.
Minolta X-570 with 24mm f/2.8 MC VFC W.Rokkor Film: Fuji Superia Reala

After 110 miles along Route 66 we reached Kingman, and headed north-west along Highway 93, towards Las Vegas. The weather was superb, warm and sunny, and the drive was pleasant. We were on schedule to get into Las Vegas before dark, even allowing for some further stops to do some sightseeing along the way. As we got closer to our destination we realised what one of those stops would have to be - the incredible Hoover Dam.

Our first view of the incredible Hoover Dam.
Minolta X-570 with 50mm f/1.2 MD Rokkor-X Film: Fuji Superia Reala

The construction of the Hoover Dam was arguably the most ambitious engineering project ever undertaken at the time of its construction, and it still is absolutely awe inspiring today.

The history of the dam begins at the turn of the 20th century, when farmers first started to settle southern California, constructing canals to divert some of the flow of the mighty Colorado River in order to irrigate the parched countryside. This proved very successful for several years until in 1905 the Colorado broke through the Canal and flooded over 150 square miles of Southern California. Over the next twenty years this was to occur repeatedly, destroying farms and doing millions of dollars worth of damage.

The US Bureau of Reclamation was responsible for finding ways to successfully irrigate the arid west, and in 1920 it commenced a project to dam the Colorado River, and distribute its water safely to the farmers and townships that needed it. Survey crews were sent down the river to find a suitable site, and in 1924 they settled on a canyon known as Black Canyon, on the Arizona-Nevada border, as the most suitable site for a dam.

The project was expected to cost $165 million, and was a huge undertaking for the government. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover negotiated an agreement between the seven states that would benefit from the water from the dam, however even then the proposal faced hurdles back on the east coast, due to the enormous cost involved. The Bureau resolved this issue by incorporating into the design a hydroelectric power station, which would have the dual benefit of helping pay for the dam while simultaneously assisting the west coast to continue growing through the provision of plentiful electricity.

The scale of the dam really needs to be seen to be appreciated.
Minolta X-570 with 24mm f/2.8 MC VFC W.Rokkor Film: Fuji Superia Reala

The plans for the dam called for a massive concrete wedge seven hundred and twenty six feet tall, and made from over four and a half million tons of concrete. The river would need to be diverted around the construction site through the creation of four 56 feet wide tunnels that had to be blasted through solid rock, and as well as the dam, the workers needed to construct two huge power stations at the base of the structure.

Work on the diversion tunnels began in 1931, and on 6th June 1933 the first concrete was poured in the dam. A system of aerial buckets was created to help transport materials to all parts of the site. The buckets poured concrete into blocks five feet deep, that were stacked one on top of another in interlocking columns to form the dam's structure. It was done in this manner because if the dam was poured in one complete pour the engineers had calculated that the concrete would take 125 years to properly cure.

The view down the face of the dam showing the two power stations situated at its base.
Minolta X-570 with 17mm f/4 MC W.Rokkor Film: Fuji Superia Reala

On February sith, 1935 the last concrete was poured into the structure, and the dam was completed. That week the diversion tunnels were all sealed, and the water from the Colorado river started creeping up the dam wall and spreading out to occupy the valley behind the dam. This stretch of water became Lake Mead, 115 miles long, and up to 500 feet deep.

Looking up Lake Mead we see the Dam's futuristic intake towers.
Minolta X-570 with 35mm f/1.8 MD W.Rokkor-X Film: Fuji Superia Reala

The Bureau of Reclamation knew that they were building an epic construction, and as a result they called in architect Gordon Kaufmann to redesign the original utilitarian designs that had first been proposed for the exposed areas of the dam. The result was a stunning tour-de-force of art deco and modernist styled design that makes the Hoover Dam magnificent not only in substance, but in form. The water intake towers evoke visions of space rockets sitting ready to launch, and the entry doors into the dam interior would not look out of place on a New York City five star art deco hotel.

Hoover Dam - architectural detail.
Minolta X-570 with 35mm f/1.8 MD W.Rokkor-X Film: Fuji Superia Reala

After visiting the dam David and I returned to our car and crossed over the dam for the last stretch of our journey to Las Vegas, only 30 miles away. We arrived in Vegas at about 4.30 pm, and got to see in daylight the city that really only comes alive after dark.

Only in Las Vegas - I wonder if the celebrant dresses up like Elvis?
Minolta X-570 with 24mm f/2.8 MC VFC W.Rokkor Film: Fuji Superia Reala

We were staying at the Luxor Hotel and Casino, designed on an Egyptian theme. The hotel has 4,408 rooms and over 120,000 square feet of casino floorspace, making it the second largest hotel in the United States. A pyramid over 350 feet high, it is topped by the worlds brightest beam of light that is visible from the air over 150 miles away.

The scale of everything in Las Vegas is overwhelming - here, bigger is most certainly better.
Minolta X-570 with 24mm f/2.8 MC VFC W.Rokkor Film: Fuji Superia Reala

We were scheduled to spend two nights in Vegas at the Luxor, and our first was spent walking the strip, seeing all of the amazing sights that there are to see. Visit again soon to see the next installment in my American Journey, when I am out and about in Las Vegas.

Day 22 - Las Vegas
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