There is a tour of the dam every hour, so we left thinking we might be able to make it into the 10 tour. We were a bit late for that so we had to wait for the 11am tour. It was already pretty hot that morning when I took a walk out the dead end road that goes along Lake Roosevelt to snap a few pictures from that side of the dam while we waited. I had heard some time back that they pump water up to a lake during low electric usage times (night time) and then let it flow back when they need more power generation during the day.
Our tour guide was leading her first tour ever, so everyone’s questions went pretty much unanswered. I know the government runs this tour, but it’s got to be the most inefficient thing I’ve ever seen. They have you drive over to the other-side (east) of the dam from the main road to join the tour and go thru metal detectors, no purses, fanny packs, or backpacks. Then you get on a small bus and drive right back the way you drove in, then all the way back to the top of the west side of the dam you passed quite a time back. They park right next to the main road on the edge of the dam and you walk into a building and into one of the largest elevators I’ve seen that wasn’t a huge loading dock type elevator with doors that opened vertically. Supposedly you can fit 56 people in this one, although we were pretty tight with 28! You go down about 80 feet to an observation deck over the main pump and pump generators.
The main pumps there are just to pump water up to the reservoirs that feed the agriculture canals. Those are the green things in the foreground. You might be able to make out the grey ones all the way back. They are pump/generators. They also pump the water up to the reservoirs, but when more power is needed, use that water from the reservoirs to generate electricity by letting gravity pull it back down thru the impeller and out into the river again.
After just a few minutes in that gallery we were back in the elevator and off to the buses again. But then they drove across the top of the dam (it was the old road pre-9/11. ) They made you use the seat belts for that part of the ride. Why, who knows? They did drive a bit odd on top of it, not following in a line, but using both sides of the road. No idea why, but it was strange. At the other side, where they added powerhouse No. 3 back in the 60’s, the buses each made a U-turn and drove halfway back across, where they stopped and let us out, all the time explaining that in pre-9/11 you could just walk anywhere “inside” the dam for as long as you wanted. Kids from the high school were getting lost inside the dam often, so they started teaching a class to tell them that at any staircase, just walk up and eventually you would get outside. (Must have been some pretty stupid high schoolers to need that class. A simple sign could have had the same effect.)
We walked around for a few minutes, over to the long drop side down to the water, and then to the side where the water was just a few feet below us, snapped some pictures and got back on the bus for the long ride all the way back to the east side again. Not sure why they didn’t just continue over the top of the dam. We had made that U-turn less than 75′ from where our cars were parked.
Had the tour started at the visitor center, just a few feet from the pump house, the tour would have taken 15 minutes and not required any buses or drivers. Instead there were two bus drivers, two buses and two tour guides and about 50 minutes to do the tour. I would not suggest taking it, kind of boring and it took way too long for what you got to see.
We had read about the laser light show they put on every night at 10pm, so we made plans to be there. They open all the gates at the top of the dam to let a lot of water come over the spillway. It was very loud once they started opening them. The laser show is a history of the area and the building of the dam and what it does for the area. It was done mainly for kids, but interesting to see the laser animated pictures projected on the water cascading down the face of the mile-long dam!
One thing we did learn on the tour was a little about the new pump house built between 1967 and 1975. I hadn’t realized we were in a Dam Race with the Soviet Union, they were going to build the largest dam in the world so we extended the Grand Coulee so it would be larger then theirs. It also allowed them to put in much larger generators and pen-stocks than the original dam has. They told us, that each of the six new pen-stocks can transport 2 or 4 Colorado Rivers amount of water in a comparison with the Hoover Dam and generates 3.5 times the amount of electricity. 6.8 Gigawatts vs Hoovers 2.0 Gigawatts.
I always thought of the Hoover Dam as being very large, but seeing the Grand Coulee made me realize the Hoover dam is pretty small in comparison. The GC is just a few feet short of a mile long.
Here are some pics from the “Resort” we stayed at outside Electric City. No ATT or Verizon signal out there, and the WiFi was unusable. $100 a night, never again!