Hoover Dam

I’ve been to the Hoover Dam twice, visiting Gabrielle both times, and seen it from two perspectives: as a pedestrian crossing it on foot, and as a passenger on a boat on Lake Mead. far more impressive than the Gavins Point Dam on either account.

the first trip was just before I headed back to Knox for my senior year of college. it was also same week as Katrina, and I’d spent no small part of the week digesting news reports and coming to understand the scope of the devastation wrought on New Orleans. as such, it was nice to get out of the house and into the unrelenting desert sunshine for a view of something so massive and iconic.

initially known as the Boulder Dam (since it was to be constructed in the Boulder Canyon but relocated to Black Canyon), the dam was officially named for then-President Herbert Hoover, who was instrumental in getting the project initiated while Secretary of Commerce under Harding. it had been common practice to name dams after presidents — but not sitting presidents. at the time construction got underway, Hoover had an eye towards using the job-creation associated with the project in conjunction with his reelection bid; after he lost to FDR in 1932, Harold Ickes (the new Secretary of the Interior) admonished members of the project to revert to the Boulder Dam appellation. it wasn’t until a California Congressional representative (Jack Anderson) submitted a resolution to the House of Representatives in 1947 that use of the “official” Hoover name resumed.

construction of the dam began in 1931 and was completed in 1936 (two years ahead of schedule) and although there have been obvious benefits for the lower members of the Colorado River Pact (signed in 1922 to decide how to divide resources associated with said river), the environmental consequences of the Hoover Dam are also quite massive. in the six years following the completion of the dam, as the basin for Lake Mead filled, virtually no water reached the Colorado River Delta. the delta’s saltwater-freshwater zone which, at one time stretched some 40 miles south of the river mouth, turned into an inverse estuary, whereby the salinity at the mouth of the river is actually higher than in the ocean water surrounding it. additionally, the Hoover Dam eliminated the pattern of natural flooding that occurred along the lower portion of the Colorado River which, naturally, profoundly and adversely affected numerous species native to the river. of course, those who benefit from the energy generated by the dam accept the  endangerment of this flora and fauna (whether tacitly or implicitly). of the energy generated by the hydroelectric turbines, 29% goes to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, 23% to the state of Nevada, 19% to the state of Arizona, and fully 15% to the city of Los Angeles. the price for cleaner energy?

(Hoover on wikipedia)

the Bean

over the weekend, I went to Chicago with my parents to  check out the Green Festival and after checking out the booths and speakers at Navy Pier, we opted to round out the day with a photo op at the “Cloud Gate” in Millennium Park.

the sculpture was inspired by liquid mercury, as it distorts and reflects the city’s skyline as if it were a giant drop of mercury. it’s made up of 168 stainless steel panels welded together. Anish Kapoor’s designed was selected through a competition, though concerns about execution arose almost immediately. in particular, the weight of the sculpture had to be considered in the construction of the Park Grille, atop which the Bean sits. on the underside is an omphalos (indentation), that distorts and multiplies images of the underside of the Bean. the apex of the omphalos is 27 feet off the ground, or 15 feet from the apex of the exterior of the structure. (it’s dimensions are 33 ft x 42 ft x 66 ft.) the incomplete sculpture was unveiled at the opening of Millennium Park in 2004, but it was then re-covered while construction (mostly polishing) was completed. it was formally dedicated two years later, and has since become a major tourist destination and photo op.

we’re the group of three in the middle of the reflection near the back.

wiki

92 degrees and 92 percent humidity

 
a couple of summers a go (the one before I moved to San Diego, in fact), I didn’t have what one could constitute “full-time” employment, or even “consistent” employment. something to do with the fact that in two and a half months time I’d be pulling up roots and heading to the warmer climes of sunny San Diego for grad school. no job = no money = no grand traveling adventures. or does it? perhaps I couldn’t coordinate something on same scale that I normally dream of, but, I concluded, no money certainly mustn’t mean no travel, let alone not trying something new!
to begin, I took the bus from Madison to downtown Chicago, thus beginning my experiment at the whims of public transportation (or a public-private hybrid, if you will). after some sweltering outdoor activities in the morning, I met up with a college friend and, since I’d only ever been up to the observation deck in the Sears Tower before, decided to head farther up Michigan Ave to the Hancock Building (which is also slightly cheaper).
the Hancock Building is the 4th tallest skyscraper in Chicago, a city know by some as the birthplace of skyscrapers. located on the site of Cap Streeter‘s 19th century steamboat shanty (in brief — Cap Streeter lied, cheated, and forged documents to make money off of the expansion of Chicago into Lake Michigan; landfill dumping produced an additional 186 acres of land extending east of where Michigan Ave is today), construction of the building posed some unique challenges. namely, caissons had to be sunk into 10ft holes drilled 190ft into bedrock to ensure stability of the foundation. the design also all but eliminated the need for internal support beams — the famous X-bracing seen above serves as a kind of skin to hold the structure up. it took 5 million man-hours to construct the building, which was completed in 1970 and, at the time, was the tallest building in the world outside of New York City. the building stands 100 storys and, until recently, could claim the highest residence in the world (it’s recently lost out to the Trump Tower in Chicago and the Burj Khalifa). because of the mixed-use plan for the building, with residences on the top levels, the structure is wedge-shaped (which also makes it look taller than it actually is). Chris Farley lived on the 60th floor and was found dead there in 1997 (his one-time neighbor, Jerry Springer, has since relocated to the 91st floor). including the height from antennas, the the Hancock Tower is listed at 1,500 feet tall, making it the 5th tallest building in the world (following the Burj Khalifa, Sears Tower, Shanghai World Financial Tower, and Taipei 101).
the observation deck is on the 94th floor of the building and a restaurant occupies the 95th floor (currently the Signature Room). elevators will take you to the deck at a speed of 20.5 mph. the weather in Chicago on the day that I visited (in late July) was hot and humid. from the top of the Hancock building, you could see loads of people out on the beaches along Lake Shore Drive, and clumping up together in boat parties north of Navy Pier. we also caught a glimpse of people lounging beside a rooftop pool of one of the residential buildings to the southeast of the Hancock Building. wonder if those people think about how many tourists will spot them on their lounge chairs when they head up to the roof for a session in the sun …
more on the John Hancock building from Wikipedia, and from the Observatory’s website.

Point Loma Lighthouse

and back across the country to climb to the top of more things … to the top of one of my favorite places in San Diego, Point Loma. the Lighthouse isn’t why I enjoy Point Loma as much as I do, but it was a good selling point for visitors. there’s a surprising lot to do on this southwesternmost point of the continental United States.

beginning in 1855, what is now known as the “Old” Point Loma Lighthouse was a beacon over San Diego Bay for 36 years. the year after California became a state, a coastal commission selected this location for its seemingly convenient and useful vantage point, 422 feet above sea level on a peninsula that overlooks both the San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean, and construction began three years later (in 1854). workers used sandstone from the surrounding hills for walls and tiles from a nearby abandoned Spanish fort to cover the floor. the 3rd-order Fresnel lens (cutting-edge technology at the time; Fresnel lenses now go up to the 6th order) didn’t arrive from France until almost a year after the Lighthouse building was completed.

after illuminating the light for the first time in November 1885, however, it quickly became apparent that the position of the light at some 462 feet from sea level was rather less than ideal. on clear nights, the beacon could be seen some 25 miles out to sea. on foggy nights (of which there are plenty in San Diego, no matter what you hear about the weather), the light was in the middle of the cloud bank and useless to sailors navigating into San Diego Bay or up the coast. to compound the situation, there was no foghorn so, on foggy nights, the Lighthouse’s longest-serving keeper, Captain Robert Decatur Israel, would stand outside firing a shotgun into the sky to warn off ships.

while it operated, the Point Loma Lighthouse was home to a bustling family, whose quarters are recreated in the building as part of the museum. the tablecloth folded back on the table to make room for a game of solitaire, instruments propped against the wall in the children’s bedroom upstairs, a glimpse of the root cellar out back. access to the lantern room is restricted, but you can climb up those last few steps anyway and peek up into the space where the lens once resided. the light was extinguished for the last time on 23 March 1891 and duties were transferred to the “New” Point Loma Lighthouse, located at the bottom of the hill a mere 88 feet above the water.

more information from the National Parks Service and Wikipedia

pres de la Tour Eiffel

three times to Paris … three times to the Tour Eiffel … but only up in the elevators once. the most recent time, with Becca, was perhaps the most amusing. I don’t have particularly clear memories of the first two visits, apart from the fact that they were both during the day, and the second time we tried to figure out which riverside tunnel was the one in which Princess Diana died.

many Parisians decried the structure when it was completed in 1889 as an “eyesore” and, when asked why he ate lunch at the Tower’s restaurant every day, Guy de Maupassant explained that it was the only place in the city from which one could not see the tower (flimsy claim if you ask me). while it has become the quintessential landmark of the city, and depicted as visible from many an establishing-shot in movies, zoning regulations in Paris mean that very few buildings are actually tall enough to grant a clear view of the tower. initially, the construction contract called for the structure to be dismantled after twenty years, when ownership reverted to the city of Paris, but it proved valuable for communication purposes and remained standing. and now that it’s become part of the popular perception of the City of Light, more than 200 million people have visited the “eyesore”.

but Becca and I didn’t go up in the tower; we arrived after the elevators had closed down for the night. (we’d climbed up the Arc de Triomphe instead.) instead, we wandered around the park and gazed up the center of the tallest building in Paris. and as we headed back to the Metro, past Les Invalides, we were accosted good-naturedly by a middle-aged, local, hobo-looking gent (from what I remember — Becca correct me on this if you recall differently). I don’t recall precisely what he said, or how we responded, apart from something of the oh-how-gorgeous-you-two-young-ladies variety. what occurs to me now, in thinking back, is that stands as one of the few conversations during the weekend in which a French person began and continued a conversation with us in French. it seemed that everywhere else we went, everyone else we encountered, saw us and began in English, or heard our attempts at French and switched to English. (which was certainly not, for someone, who, at that point had spent seven years studying French and considered spending her study abroad experience in France, a welcome assumption or shift.) but this random lout, between the Tour Eiffel and Les Invalides, assumed and tolerated our French-language abilities.
and now, quite suddenly, after not thinking much about Paris in the intervening five and a half years, I would very much like to visit again.

more from Wikipedia and the Tower’s site