The Damn Airport, the Damn Pet Cemetery, and the Damn Dam: Part 2

You can read about the damn airport here.

At the airport, we got a text from Crazypants Clems that she was coming into Boulder City, so we headed towards the Hoover Dam to meet her there. On the way, we stopped at the Memorial Bridge, or as I like to call it, the Bridge of Nope. Because there was no fucking way I was walking out on that thing. The kids did, however, and took this pic of the dam.

View from the Bridge of Nope.

 We hiked back down and Middle Little checked out a neon green Corvette and a white Ferrari in the parking lot. The white Ferrari was most definitely NOT a Porsche as I was very not-so-kindly informed by Middle Little who seriously and rightly doubts my intelligence when it comes to motor vehicles. We met the Clems family at the bridge and then headed over to the dam. After we peed in real bathrooms (not the kind that were basically holes in the ground) we went down and paid for the $30 tour. Splurge, baby. You gotta treat yourself to the finer things every once in a while. We had an hour and a half to look around before our tour group got together so we hung out in the visitors center.  I also may have played a little Pokémon Go.

The first thing we did was watch a movie. I don’t remember a whole lot about it except for some line about touching the calloused concrete skin of the dam and watching the water sparkle like jewels behind her crown. I’m pretty sure that the script was written by a romance novel writer. However, I tried the “touch my sparkling jewel with your calloused concrete skin” sexytalk with my husband when I got home and he was not. turned. on. at. all.  

What a diverse group of white people!

One of the things I noticed about the visitor’s center, and it carried throughout the tour, was that everything was presented from a really Eurocentric point of view. It was all about taming the raging wild river with American ingenuity and making the desert bloom. As if nobody was here and there was all this wasted water and then white people came and made everything better. Yay white people! The presentation reminded me of when I visited Little Bighorn in the eighties and it was all like CUSTER! CUSTER! CUSTER! oh yeah and some Indians too. Except here there were no “Indians too.”  From a public history standpoint, I found the presentation extremely troubling, particularly given the history of the struggle of Native Americans for access to water rights to the Colorado River. Struggle that is still happening today. Not to mention sacred spaces and other lands that were covered by lake water as a result of the Hoover Dam and other dams on the Colorado River. The story of American ingenuity and engineering is great and all, but why are we not also exploring what the cost is and who pays for it? 

So it was kinda fucked up.

After going through the visitor’s center, we took the tour through the dam and power plant. I’m not going to bore you with all the details, but there were a couple of things that I found interesting.

Oh look, here are the Native Americans. Appropriated in the floor designs.

The floors were fucking amazing. They were made of terrazzo marble or some shit. The marble was black and white in the power plant and pink and white inside the dam. 

Straddling the power plant and the dam.

They used a designer named Allen Tupper True to help with the interior, and he designed the Native American themed (but still very Art Deco-ey) floor inlays. You can read more about the design here. The Hoover Dam wasn’t the only thing True did. He was pretty well-known for his murals, his design on the Wyoming license plate, and his Native American inspired artwork. He made quite a bit of money selling paintings that depicted Native American life before contact with whites. No, I’m not kidding. He’s actually kind of an interesting guy, and if artwork of the American West is your thing, you can check out this website

Another thing I really loved about the dam tour was being inside the engineering hallways inside the dam. It was cool because you got to see marks in the wall left by the inspectors and how the concrete blocks that make up the dam were grouted together. As cool as the marble floors were, the cramped little tunnels felt more real.

Math is only cool when it’s graffiti.

Ventilation tunnel created by pouring concrete over a cypress wood mold.

Where two blocks come together. Brass tacks inserted to gauge alignment upon settling.

After the engineering part of the damn dam tour, we went to the top via the crowdedest little elevator imaginable. Everybody else looked around. Being afraid of heights, I mostly freaked out while everybody laughed at me. Then we went to the old visitors center and watched the presentation there which consisted of a really fucking cool papier-mâché-or-something topographical map with lights narrated by someone in “booming nineteen-sixties authoritative male” voice. It might have been my favorite part of the whole damn thing.

What is this? Why is it so awesome! Where has it been all my life? AND IT HAS LIGHTS THAT LIGHT UP!!!

 By the time the last presentation was over, our sore-assed feet were ready to walk the fuck back to our cars. So we did.  And we grabbed lunch. And laughed a lot. And talked about cat hair pie. And hugged. And made plans to meet in a couple of weeks to hike out to a concrete arrow and I’ll tell you all about that later. And I’ll tell you about the awesome freaky pet cemetery tomorrow. 

Also, I’m sorrynotsorry for all the damn/dam jokes. They’re kind of like penis jokes – when you come (heh-heh) across one, it’s really hard (ha) not to say it. Plus, they made me laugh when I was like seven and visited the dam the first time and they still make me laugh all these years later. 

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The Damn Airport, The Damn Pet Cemetery, and the Damn Dam: Part 1

I haven’t been blogging for a long time, and I felt bad about that.

Then I came on here and saw a post that I had started and never finished, and I felt bad about that.

But this month is my birth month, and I feel good about that. I’ll be 40 in a couple of weeks, and I feel really good about that.

My Mormon bestie, Crazypants Clems, wanted to take me out for my birthday and she asked me what I wanted to do. I told her I wanted to do something history, and she suggested the Hoover Dam since it is an hour away from me. And I loved the idea. We planned to meet up there early-ish so we could do the Dam Tour .

Of course, I immediately planned a couple of side trips to see what else there was to see in and around Boulder City. I especially love what I call “Dirty history,” which is history that isn’t yet museumized. You know, those funky little places that are kind of off the grid and don’t show up in glossy brochures? Those places make my heart happy.

I found this cool little blog called Places that Were and decided that I was gonna check out the abandoned airfield in Boulder City and the Pet Cemetery just south of town. The website was super-awesome in that you could look up shit on your phone and then just click on the map of the location to get directions to where you were going. Which was really helpful because the pet cemetery was in bumfuck nowhere and really hard to find. Using the map on that site allowed me to know exactly where to pull off the road onto the shitty dirt road street that led to the field of death pet cemetery.

There’s a lot to get through here, so I’m gonna just give my basic impressions and then link to sites where you can get more information.

We visited Bullock Airport first thing in the morning. It’s right off the main highway that runs through town (93?). You wouldn’t even notice it if you didn’t know it was there. It’s behind a trailer park and some buildings on the side of the highway. I turned in at the back of the old hangar and parked there. In front of me was one of the old runways (above right) and then across the runway are a bunch of concrete slabs where buildings used to be (above left). The runway is pretty much dirt and gravel now. with some more solid asphalt or concrete in the center. Which is appropriate since it started out as a packed-dirt runway and it’s pretty much returned to that state. The only people who are using now it are the people who are dumping old TV’s, shopping carts, and whatever in the grass and whoever was camping out on one of the concrete slabs (we saw remains of a camp fire). It’s not super junked up, but I’d recommend wearing boots if you go out exploring. Same goes for the pet cemetery.

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X marks the runway.

The airport, named after Noel Bullock, was built in the thirties and ran continuously through the late 40’s, with TWA providing commercial service. It was also used by the Navy during WWII and had an ammo depot onsite. After TWA stopped running service, the airport was under intermittent use by local flying clubs and whatnot until 1990, when the new airport was built further South. When I was reading about the airport online before actually going, I thought it was weird that TWA provided service to Boulder City into the late 40’s. Like why the fuck are so many people going to Boulder City in 1945? But then when I took the dam tour, they mentioned that today the Hoover Dam is considered a side-trip to a Las Vegas visit. But in the immediate years following the 1935 completion of the dam, it was the primary destination for many travellers. In fact, the airport offered flyover dam and Grand Canyon tours as soon as it opened. In the 1940’s, people came to Nevada to see the dam, not Las Vegas. In that context, it makes sense why there would have been a commercial airport in Boulder City.

There are a couple of buildings still standing. One is the terminal, in use by the local Elks Lodge, which I did not get a picture of. The other is an old hangar bearing a plaque honoring Paul Fisher of the Fisher Space Pen for donating funds for the hangar’s restoration.The Fisher Space Pen was used by NASA because the pen can write in space. It can also write on butter, which is far less impactful, but also far more interesting. Paul Fisher lived in Boulder City towards the end of his life, and died there in 2006.

The hangar was locked up pretty tight, so we didn’t get to see the inside. Sadface. But if you’re in the area, then I think it’s worth stopping by and taking a look. It’s kind of neat to see the bones of the buildings and the runways and imagine what it was like when it was bustling with people coming from across the country to see the dam.

I’m going to take a break today and write about the Boulder Dam tomorrow, probably. If you’re interested in reading more about the airport, check Paul Freeman’s Abandoned and Little-Known Airfields site (scroll down) or Boulder City’s Lost Airport on Places that Were.