I'd never been there before (indeed, the last time I made that lottery run from Vegas, the road was closed,) so I stopped and did the tour and everything. Really, it is a magnificent piece of engineering. The desert environment does a nice job preserving it. Looking around the inside and outside, you'd never know it's 70 years old. The concrete is as white as the day it cured. And one of the big cable trolleys across the canyon used in the original construction is still functional (and used!) today. In spite of the post-9/11 terror fearmongering, they do come right out and tell you to go ahead and take all the dam pictures you want. (I did, they'll be up eventually.) What cracks me up is the whole thing took just under 5 years to build, start to finish, two of which was pouring all the concrete.
By contrast, the US-93 bypass bridge being built across the canyon about half a mile downstream of the dam, is going to take longer. It'll be the longest concrete arch bridge in North America when it's done. That's going to be a huge win when it opens. US-93 is the main artery between Las Vegas and Phoenix (also, Flagstaff and the rest of the southern/eastern US reachable by I-40.) Since 9/11, they've had to prohibit semi trucks from crossing the dam, and placed limits on trailers, RVs, and buses. Never mind, it's a two-lane road. God willing, it'll withstand a good earthquake. It's an 890 foot drop to the river if a piece of the span should fall. The project web site is well worth exploring. They've posted a ton of high-resolution construction progress photos.
And yes, there will be an observation walkway on the bridge. They'd be dumb not to do that, as people would walk out there anyways.
So, we get to the dumb part. I'm driving home down I-40. The Santa Fe railroad runs alongside the highway for much of the valley east of Barstow. Just west of Ludlow, I see a big cloud of smoke in the air. I'm thinking wildfire, it's not the first time I've seen that on I-10 or I-40. Wrong. A few miles later, I see nothing burning, but the cloud is hanging right over the tracks, with a train running on them. And then I see flames peek over a rise in the distance. Moving flames. The train is on fire. The second of four engines was roasting nicely, as the train braked down from 70 MPH. Big. Fucking. Flames. How often do you see that? Of course I have to get pictures. So I passed the train, found a gravel turnabout and came back east, as the train was to the south of the highway. I got some shots as it passed, the fire now put out. There were railroad pickup trucks a couple of miles east waiting near some signals, they must have done something.
So it was time to turn back west. I looked for another turnabout. Given the particular terrain, they're a little hard to spot. I found one, slowed down a little hard, and missed the middle of it. I figured I was still okay on the fringe. Wrong. Halfway across the median, my front tires stuck in the sand and started to spin. Fuck me, I'm done. I tried some tricks for getting out of snow, but they don't work on desert sand. I tried jamming some truck tire treads under my wheels for traction, and some large asphalt rocks. Nothing.
I couldn't complete a cell call, so I couldn't reach AAA to roll a tow truck. So it's a walk back towards Ludlow, until I either came to a call box or got a clear signal. I started writing a note with an explanation and contact information to stick in my back window in case CHP happened along (unlikely, but possible.) Halfway through, a couple in a pickup towing a trailer pulled over and asked if I needed help. Uhhh... yeah! It's a big Ford F-250 with 4-wheel drive, and he nearly gets stuck crossing the sand median. He detached the trailer and was able to pull himself out. He pulled his trailer out again with a tow strap. The trailer turned out to be a big benefit--the added length allowed us to attach the back of my car to the trailer, and the extra length let the truck pull me from the paved shoulder, rather than the sand.
We got me out pretty quickly. The trickiest part was getting the trailer reattached to the truck on the highway shoulder. The tongue jack dug into the gravel a little and couldn't raise it high enough. But in a pinch, an aluminum carpenter's level will serve as a stand, while you crank down the jack to stick a board under it to get the extra height.
No, I have no pictures of this. I don't need THAT haunting me forever. :-)
Half the reason he stopped was because just last week, he'd run out of gas a mile down the road from where this happened. "I'll make it to the next town! ...or not." Someone bailed him out, so in turn he bailed me out. So I owe someone a favor down the road. In the meantime, if you're around Alhambra and need a carpenter, give Mike Layns a call, 320-3537, area code 626. He's a good guy, and I would've had a much longer day yesterday if he hasn't driven by.