Power to the People

Hydroelectric power, that is.  Today was mostly all about water, some practical, some just pretty.

We headed off to Grand Coulee Dam this morning.  Now, I like dams as much as the next person, but only make an effort to see the really big ones. And this is a really big one, which dams the Columbia River, creating two lakes, as part of a series of ten dams that irrigate the Columbia River Valley and produce power. It was started in the Depression, and had the usual displacement of salmon runs and ancient Indian fishing sites and burial grounds.  You know.

In the old days, before 9/11, you could just drive across the dam and marvel at Lake Roosevelt on one side and the huge spillway of the dam on the other side.  But now, the security is severe.  We went through an airport-type security check, and weren’t allowed any bags with us, as we were ushered onto the tour bus.  Before we boarded, two people swept the bus for explosives, and carefully looked under the whole bus with those mirror thingies. And no, I was not allowed to take pictures of that.  Following our bus at all times was a van with armed security guards watching.  People of the Northwest, your power grid is being closely protected!

We got to see the generators that pump the water and were allowed onto the top of the dam. Another gorgeous day in Washington State, as you can see.

One amusing part of the town that serves the dam is the incongruity between its landscape and that of the desert-like natural environment in which it resides.  But hey – they have a lot of water here, and it’s cute to see how you can go from suburban Ohio to desert in one block.  See the town from the bridge (it’s the very green section), and admire one of its residential streets.  The houses you see here on one side of the river were are built for the engineers, the ruling class when the dam was being built. They are all still maintained externally as they were then.  The laborers were on the other side of the river, and their digs were not as nice, and not much preserved.

Dam admired, we were then off to Spokane (spoh-KAN) – a long way off, through miles and miles of nicely irrigated fields and farmland.  We arrived in time for lunch at Frank’s Diner, a local legend housed in a converted private railroad car of the early 20th century. Very nice!

Then it was off to the Spokane Museum of Arts and Culture, a modern edifice, mostly built into the hillside, so as not to annoy the neighbors. Strangely organized, but nice space. We started on the outside with works of Tom Ottnerness, whose whimsical public art graces some subway stops in New York.  http://www.tomostudio.com/

The rest of the museum has a random organization, but do admire the control panel from Fairchild AFB, which would have triggered a response to the Cuban Missile Crisis, had it come to that.  Gulp.  The other stuff was just fun.

With our admission came a tour of the Campbell House next door.  This Tudor Revival gem was a gift of the original family who built it and lived in it, and it has been lovingly maintained and restored.  Just enjoy the walk through the house that mining interests made possible. It was built on the banks of the river, just to maintain our water theme…

But there’s more!

One native son of Spokane needed to be honored, so we then went to Gonzaga University, home of Bing Crosby memorabilia, as he was a student there, and his home is practically on campus.  It is being restored (poorly) but it was a treat to see his Academy Award, and get a whiff of this native son. The student center is named in his honor, and – as this is a private Jesuit university – guess he got the inspiration for some of his parts here.

Not done yet, we then went to Riverside Park, home of Expo ’74,  the first environmentally themed world’s fair. What’s left is an amusement park overlooking the Spokane River, which one can see via a Sky Ride – which we were crazy enough to take. More water, more hydropower, and a very scary ride over the top of the falls!

To wrap up the day, we then invented the Bing Crosby Miniature Golf Invitational, which we played in the amusement park section.  It’s a lovely park, and it was a fun game.  No need to discuss who won.

Think we did enough for one day?

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