FROM SEA TO SHINING
colossus of Rhodes? A midget.
Babylon's Hanging Gardens?
Mere window boxes.
The Pyramids of Egypt?
The Pharos Lighthouse . . .
Temple of Diana . . . Mausoleum at Halicarnassus . . . Statue of Zeus? These
they were, pikers, all seven of them, compared to the prodigy that is
America! This is the miracle of all history, this fabulous United States;
this prodigious prodigal Uncle Samson the Samaritan, as lavish with his land
as with his money.
other nation ever has been so rich in resources, so profuse in production,
that it can afford to contribute half its area to theatrics, write off
thousands of square miles of its territory for scenic display?
the Continental Divide across the enormous states of Wyoming and Colorado,
New Mexico and Arizona, Utah and Nevada, this country of ours devotes itself
to spectacular splendor. Mountains and canyons, deserts and salina combine
to form an awesome, wondrous panorama viewed from four miles up in the
wonderful waste! What portentous profligacy!
California—sumptuous, summery Cal, with its sundrenched slopes and
vinous verdure—still gives up most of its acreage to wild mountainry and
bleached desiccation, equally barren, alike unproductive, unpopulated.
it seems to me, is the overriding impress fixed so indelibly on the mind of
the transcontinental novitiate. I know that as I winged my way for the first
time over mile after mile of geodetic dramatics—black hills and brown
sands, forlorn gorges and pathetic arroyos, schistose formations of an
immensity beyond the dimensions of a dozen states like ours, of a character
that absolutely defies description—the thought impinged upon my enthralled
consciousness with the violence and vehemence of a whiplash: what a country
is ours that we dare dedicate so much of it to non-utilitarian use, and
still remain the greatest on earth, the richest in the annals of all
hours on end my fascinated gaze fixed itself raptly on—nothing—nothing
except extravagant splendor, wasteful magnificence, spendthrift grandeur. No
sign of life met my probing eyes, no smoking factories or tumultuous cities,
nothing but rugged vastness, multi-hued, vari-shaped pageantry,
awe-inspiring, breath-taking in its sublime stillness.
1 know we dredge oil and ore from some of it, mine metals and mill lumber,
but mostly it's waste, intrinsically speaking: rude, rough, unrefined, only
for great things good, such great things as shame the seven celebrated
marvels of the ancient world. Nowhere is the prodigality of Nature so
calculated to excite wonder and exaltation as here. Inspired by the
limitless reaches of our wanton West, the giddy Dame pulls out all the
stops, really lets herself go. She doesn't know her own strength.
what lavish a scale does Nature the exhibitionist perform here in this
ennobling setting! She thinks nothing of flinging billions of tons of rock
across Uncle Sam's face to raise livid welts, gouging out vivid pock-marks
of canyons and craters, digging arroyo scars with her scratching fingers.
Exuberantly she yanks out forested forelocks by their hirsute roots,
leaving stark patches of sterile baldness, only an occasional cactus and
chaparral where there should be healthy, luxuriant crops. Almost exultantly
she turns his own salty tears into excrescence that pollutes his pools,
sali-nating his sorely-needed water supply.
she can be hard, can Nature, a relentless Niobe who would destroy all she
bore. But she can be kind and gentle, too, can this lady of many moods, and
even at her worst, her most ruthless, she offers something extraordinarily
inspiring in the very majesty of her misbehavior. Vixen she may be, but yet
she is an artist, a recusant regnant whose optigraphic
masterpieces have been wrought by aeons of
unbridled, unrestrained caprice.
mere mortals accept her didactic dictum unquestioning, uncomplaining,
satisfying our sensuous sentiency on the visional feasts she spread
tantalizingly before us, caring little about sensorial sensibilities.
so old Sam. He's not without an appreciation of the scenic splendent, but
he's a practical cuss, too. And he's not taking such cavalier treatment
saw him fighting back there in the once forbidding Black Canyon hewed by the
fearsome Colorado out where the westernmost Rockies come to grips with the
the dawn of time the old Dame had delighted in brushing the snow off the
mountains with one wide sweeping seasonal gesture, tossing the ermine mass
into the river, to send it cascading rampantly, swollen in its own conceit
like Loki gone berserk, through the countryside, destroying all in its
rampaging way. In between these cruel, destructive sorties the parched land
wilted and burned and produced nothing but mesquite and sage brush.
Hoover and his commissioner of reclamation, Dr. Elwood Mead, threw down the
gauntlet twenty-three years ago. In an inaccessible spot at the foothills of
Fortification Mountain where sheer walls of mighty rock astride the
boundary between Arizona and Nevada compressed the Colorado into a narrow
enraged maelstrom and only the most intrepid of explorers ever had set foot,
Sam went to work.
road was thrown across the desert, the town of Boulder City was built to
house the workers, millions of tons of glacial stone were blasted out of
the canyon in simultaneous trinitrotoluene fusillades to fashion the
v-shaped support for what today is Hoover Dam, greatest undertaking of its
kind ever dared.
the last day of my westward adventure for the convention of the National
Association of Real Estate Boards, I visited this miracle of modern
techtonics only thirty miles from Las Vegas in
the heart of such scenic classics as the Bryce and Grand Canyons, Death
Valley, Pike's Peak, Zion National Park, Kaibab Forest, Pueblo ruins, ghost
towns of the old mining days.
550 feet—the height of a 46-story building— I descended to the massive
power plant, down into natural rock tunnels through which the raging waters
of the Colorado once surged, down at the base of the dam where the concrete
is 660 feet thick because the water pressure is 45,000 pounds on each square
foot, where the air escaping from the turbines churns up an agitated
two-tone green show.
was the 414,353rd rubberneck last year to view this largest of all dams that
rises 727 feet above bedrock, is 1244 feet long at its crest, with a power
plant capacity of 1 !/£ million kilowatts. Its production exceeding the
combined output of Muscle Shoals and Niagara Falls, it furnishes electrical
energy to Nevada, Arizona and Southern California, including Los Angeles.
low cost electricity—which incidentally makes the gigantic project
self-sufficient—is only one of many benefits wrested from Nature in this
operation that excavated 6i/£ million cubic yards of stone and sand,
employed 96 million pounds of steel and metal, 33 million of valves, gates
and hoists, and 41/9 million cubic yards of concrete.
provides desperately needed flood control and silt control, too, and water
storage and irrigation. Lake Mead, the inland sea created by the dam, a
spectacular sight in its canyon setting, is the world's largest man-made
reservoir, 115 miles long, 58 feet deep with a capacity of 31 million
acre-feet and a flood-control reserve of 9i/£ millions. With the Colorado
capable of a flow as great as 300,000 cubic feet of water a second as Spring
warmth melts the snowpack on the Rockies, Mead can impound two years'
average flow within its spillway gates. An acre-foot, incidentally is the
water necessary to cover an acre of land to a depth of one foot, which you
probably knew all the time. I didn't.
Lake, named for Commissioner Mead, contains 550 miles of scenic shoreline
abounding in vari-colored lava deposits like the famed paint pots of
Yellowstone. The Newark
News' Jack Kempson, supposed to be fishing for
the bass and bluegill that abound there, was more interested in scrambling
along the shore for exotic pieces of odd-shaped driftwood and bizarre chunks
of petrified rock. Even the sight of a coyote leaping into the water and
paddling out to seize a gamecock shot down by a hunter didn't feaze him.
Acquisition of choice driftwood seems to be a hobby as insidious and
sometimes invidious as golf. Another caught in its toils is Ray Balasny, my
preceptor and guide—in absentia—on this trip.
Dam impressed me not only by the enormity of its undertaking, the daring of
its conception and successful translation of a bold dream into reality, but
as an excellent example of government's proper function.
like I, who fear and oppose concentration of great power in Washington,
often are chided for alleged inconsistency: we favor a little government
aid, or indirect aid, or aid that helps us specifically, we're told and
scolded; we're constantly being challenged to spurn all help and
intervention of any kind in proof of our sincerity.
was the press conference, near the close of the convention at Los Angeles,
with Al Cole, who heads the government's housing program.
of the boys gleefully pounced upon a NAREB resolution calling for the
disposal of all public housing by sale to private, taxpaying ownership, and
its interim "competent and efficient private management" to
eliminate political extravagance from operational costs. This was construed
as a willingness by realtors, vigorously free enterprise minded, to
themselves accept public funds, and Cole was induced to voice his
disapproval of the idea, to the ill-concealed satisfaction of some of the
of course, opined that maybe the National Association of Real Estate Boards
is naive enough to accept at face value the representation that we are a
nation which fosters individual opportunity and that the proper role of
government is to encourage and stimulate private effort, not substitute itself
for it by stretching unduly its own powers at the expense of the citizen.
day at lunch at the Biltmore I heard Governor Bracken Lee of Utah say
unequivocally that there are only two ways in which people can prosper:
under a system of complete free enterprise or a complete dictatorship; that
we've nourished under the first but are heading rapidly toward the second.
thought intrigued me, and I meant to explore it in conversation with
Governor Lee after the luncheon, but it happened that Ginny Simms was
present, and she looked so sweet and lovely and not a day older than when
she began singing many years ago that I couldn't resist chatting with her,
and when finally I sought out the Governor he had departed, presumably for
Salt Lake City.
when later I stood on the crest of Hoover Dam and looked down its mammoth,
monolithic gleaming white wall on the swirling black-green waters of the
harnessed Colorado River and gazed out over Lake Mead where billions of gallons
are stored to assure a stable supply of domestic and industrial use to the
seven states which are signatories to the Colorado River Compact, and I saw
the All-American Canal wending its serpentine way across desert wastelands
to serve California's Imperial and Coachella and Palo Verde valleys,
Arizona's Yuma and Gila areas, and I realized that the region below Hoover
Dam receives no more than five inches of rain a year and without irrigation
crop production is impossible, and I see the steel derricks anchored into
the mountains stretching as far in all directions as the eye can see,
carrying electrical power from this once vicious, totally useless river,
then I understand plainly enough government's role.
is to fight wars. Not necessarily or exclusively wars against external
enemies, but wars against famine and fear, and against Nature herself. When
a natural menace like the Colorado can be tamed and converted into a
national resource, government is doing its job.
only government could tackle so formidable a foe as the Dame. And in doing
so it employed to best advantage
the product of private
enterprise in a working partnership: the unbelievable accomplishments were
performed by firms on contract. But the impetus, the stimulation, came from
government, and so did the financing and, of necessity, the land
acquisition, utilizing its sovereign right of eminent
I might mention parenthetically, was $172,000,000 spent more judiciously.
The investment is being repaid through annual amortization of fifty-year
bonds bearing 3% interest, mostly through the sale of electrical energy,
supplemented to a lesser extent by water storage charges. Thus power and
water are picking up the tab for a project that is reclaiming and developing
a tremendously large and important part of our land.
$172,000,000, it should be pointed out, is equivalent to half a billion by
today's standards. Indicative of the economic trend this past generation,
the huge turbo-generators which originally cost $21/4 millions each now cost
$7 millions. Their number has been increased as population and industrial
growth have expanded, stepping up demands for electricity.
herculean task achieved, government now is edging out of the picture. The
dam is paying its way. Boulder City is to be disposed of to private
interests and soon will take its place among the incorporated municipalities
of Nevada. Through the years it has been publicly-owned, a neat, clean
little community faithful to the careful planning that created it as a
model. Lawns and hedges are kept trimmed, flower gardens vie with Joshua
trees in eye-appeal, houses are modern and attractive. And— strange as
it may seem for Nevada- there are no cafes or liquor stores; stranger still,
gambling strictly taboo!
bans may end when Uncle Sam relinquishes his landlordship, but it is
altogether fitting and proper nonetheless that Boulder City should be
loosed of its federal reins, set free to determine its own destiny.
battle is over. Nature has been licked on the Colorado
River front, has capitulated to the combined forces of governmental
initiative and industrial genius.
war continues in other sectors, pitting the co-operative teamwork of
governing and governed against the wild might of Nature which has reigned
unchecked, unhampered, these many millenniums since the dawn of day.
Dam— symbol of progress, exemplification of leadership's proper role. For
a government cannot have too much of the kind of activity which does not
impede or supplant, but rather aids and stimulates individual exertion and