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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Road Trip ! - Southwestern US (Part 1) - Mojave Preserve, Las Vegas, Hoover Dam & Bridge

We recently finished up a 10-day 1,600-mile road trip around the Southwest, from 29 November to 8 December. Starting and ending in San Diego, we drove northeast to southern Utah, then back south through Arizona.  Our overnight stops were Las Vegas, NV - St. George, UT - Zion National Park - Grand Canyon National Park - Scottsdale, AZ.  Along the way we visited the Mojave Preserve, Hoover Dam, Valley Fire State Park (NV), Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument (UT), Glen Canyon Dam, Horseshoe Bend, Bedrock City (AZ), Walnut Canyon and Montezuma's Castle National Monuments, the Heard Museum in Phoenix and the Desert Botanical Garden in Scottsdale.

Most people make the drive from San Diego to Las Vegas in just over 5 hours.  We took considerably longer than that, by detouring through the Mojave National Preserve. Our first stop was the old train station in Kelso. The National Park Service has done a beautiful job of restoring the old 1920's-vintage station, including the lunch counter, which serves a very good sandwich.

The late afternoon light along Morningstar Mine Road was pretty nice. Even though we planned to stay in hotels the entire trip, and stick mostly to paved roads, we took the Xterra. It's nice to be able to just take off on some little side road, paved or unpaved, when we spot something interesting along the way.  We had food, water and camping supplies for 2-3 days in case it was needed.

We got quite a variety on our first day out. After we checked into our room at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas we made our way over the Venetian, where we had dinner in the bar area at Zefferino's so that we could visit with old family friend Joe Vento while he played the piano. Joe and my father were the best of friends - they met when my father came to the US from Sicily in 1937.

The hotels were all decorated up for the holiday season, but the crowds were pretty thin. More people started showing up as we were leaving town on Thursday morning, but those first few days of the week immediately following Thanksgiving are really quiet. That makes for some real bargains in room rates though.

While we were in Las Vegas I took a side trip over to see Hoover Dam and new US 93 bypass bridge.  The bridge, which is known as the Mike O'Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, was only recently opened in late 2010.  It now carries all through traffic on US 93, and the roadway over Hoover Dam is now only open to tourists, and you have to turn around and come back the same way after crossing.  The new bridge has a very nice pedestrian walkway, complete with panels describing how it was built and who it is dedicated to.  The road bed sits about 900' above the Colorado River at the center of the span, and the view of the dam from that point is pretty impressive.  The bridge is only about 1,500' downstream from the dam.

They really did a nice job on the pedestrian access to this bridge. You can walk from a specially designed plaza on the Nevada side all the way across (1,600') to the Arizona side. This next shot is taken from partway across, looking back towards Nevada.

Wednesday was a bright, sunny, calm day, which made for a great shadow of the bridge across the narrow canyon looking back from the Arizona side to Nevada. You can just see the dam on the far right side of the frame.

Straddling the Nevada-Arizona State Line, partway across the bridge.

Back on the Nevada side after walking across, here's the view looking over towards Arizona.

Here's one shot to help put this all into perspective. Taken from near the center of the top of Hoover Dam, looking downstream. The first shot in this series was taken from near the center of the bridge looking in the opposite direction.

I didn't take the tour of the interior of the dam - it was such a nice day that I decided to just wander around outside instead. Here's a shot of a sculpture dedicated to the men who built Hoover Dam in the early 1930's.

That giant wind storm that hit the whole southwestern US came through Las Vegas starting just after sunset on Wednesday night (just as I was getting back to the hotel).  On Thursday morning we set out for St. George, Utah.  It was almost 25 degrees colder than it was the day before, very windy, and with intermittent rain.
To be continued . . . 
Click here to see more images from our drive to and our stay in Las Vegas, Nevada, on the first part of our southwestern road trip.
Click here for more images of Hoover Dam and of the new US 93 bridge.

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San Diego, California, United States
About me . . . When I'm not working I like to be out exploring and photographing. I do this blog just for fun, and to be able to share these images with friends. I hope you enjoy viewing these images as much as I enjoyed creating them.

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Header image: Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, Cibola, Arizona. End image: Downtown San Diego, California skyline from Coronado Island. Profile picture: Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho, by Heather Baiamonte.