December 28, 2011

Lake Mead and Hoover Dam

Over Christmas I visited my brother's family in Las Vegas. On the way back I stopped at Lake Mead and Hoover Dam, which are a few miles to the southeast.

As always, I looked for evidence that the land once belonged to Indians. There was basically nothing: no ruins, no place names, no signs noting points of interest.

Here's what you won't learn on a casual drive through the area:

Lake Mead--History & CultureBefore the existence of Lake Mead, Lake Mohave, and Hoover Dam, the area encompassing the one and a half million acres of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area was occupied by early desert Indian cultures, adventurous explorers, ambitious pioneers looking for cheap land and religious freedom, and prospectors seeking riches.

Based on archaeological evidence, several Native American cultures have been identified as having existed 8,000 to 10,000 years ago in an environment wetter and cooler than it is today. These cultures hunted game, gathered local edible plants and practiced farming. In a cave near present-day Lake Mead, the remains of large mammals were discovered by archaeologist Mark R.Harrington and paleontologist James Thurston including: ground sloth (Nothrotheriops shastensis), horse (Equus sp.), camel (Camelops sp.) and mountain sheep (Ovis canadensis). Notches found on the bones of animals located in that primitive dwelling show evidence that they were prepared and eaten by humans.

Various prehistoric culture groups made the Colorado River region their home. Archaeological investigations have provided evidence that some were hunter/gatherers and lived in caves; other groups lived in pit houses and Puebloan-type structures, and practiced early farming. Ranging from present day Davis Dam north to the Virgin and Muddy Rivers, these early farming groups grew corn, beans, squash and cotton.

Their technology included pottery of the reddish-brown and gray-brown buff ware with simple black and red decoration. They ground corn and seeds with manos and metate and hunted game with spears, bows & arrows made from local or traded materials.
Comment:  Here's all I learned from the trip itself:

  • The first panel in the Hoover Dam visitor center's exhibits notes that Indians and Spaniards inhabited the region before the white man. It calls the land "parched and desolate" until Americans made it flourish with water. This is misleading since the region was cooler and wetter before (see above) and Indians probably had no trouble then.

  • The Hoover Dam "Reclamation: Managing Water in the West" brochure describes the Colorado River: "As early as 600 A.D. humans worked to harness its water for their use." Humans? You mean Indians. I don't know if they tried to harness the water before 600 AD, but they lived in the area at least ten times longer.

  • The brochure briefly mentions the conflict over water rights. It says the dispute was between seven states, ignoring the tribes who also claimed water rights.

    The effect is that Hoover Dam seems to be minimizing the regional role of Natives. I wonder why?

  • The official NPS handout for Lake Mead has three sentences on Natives and a photo of rock art.

  • The park newsletter mentions Native coyote trickster tales before warning people not to feed the animals.

  • Anyway, here are the photos from my day trip:

    Lake Mead and O'Callaghan-Tillman Bridge--Dec. 27, 2011 (morning)

    Hoover Dam and underground tour--Dec. 27, 2011 (early afternoon)

    Visitor center and heading home--Dec. 27, 2011 (late afternoon)

    For some previous photo galleries, see Pumpkin Patch in Culver City and 2010 Christmas Pix.

    Below:  Elevator with a smidgen of Southwest Indian style.

    1 comment:

    dmarks said...

    Now go watch National Lampoon's Las Vegas Vacation.