Monday, June 26, 2017

Box Canyon Dam

Box Canyon Dam

Jennifer E. Miller

On our way home from Canada, we stopped at Box Canyon Dam on the Pend Oreille River WA. We noticed signs indicating the dam, and another that read "tours available." After 9/11, touring dams practically became an extinct activity. In middle school (which was looooong before 9/11), I recall a field trip to Grand Coulee Dam. We drove across the top of the dam, then took a coal car elevator down into it. After 9/11, those activities ceased, as far as I know. Hence, we jumped at the chance to tour a dam again. 

I know, we're nerds. However, we weren't very attentive nerds because I can't remember what all the things I photographed are called, let alone what purpose they serve. I'm throwing them together here, hoping that the actual nerds of the physics sector can remind me what they are. Maybe I should put out a disclaimer: I am writing this solely from memory. Take any information in actual context at your own risk. 

We turned at the tiny wooden sign that said "tours available" onto a long driveway. We parked and walked across the gravel lot to the non-air conditioned visitor's center. It looked like an office waiting room except with dioramas and historic photos instead of seating. There was a young woman, as in teenager, who greeted us at the front desk. I asked about the tours and she explained she was the guide and could conduct one as soon as we were ready. I was pleasantly surprised to find out they were free, and we were allowed to take photos except in the control room. Based on her excitement to give a tour, I'm guessing they don't get many visitors. Off we went.

First off, we couldn't tour the spillway because it was under construction. The engineers working the dam were building a salmon ladder per new federal regulations. There was plenty of other stuff to see.

The door to the dam innards is near the red thing in the above photo. We entered a hot stuffy stairway and began our descent. The temperature dropped with each flight of stairs, and soon it was chilly.

Eventually, we entered a big room with concrete walls...and a concrete floor...and a concrete ceiling. It was made of concrete, in case my reference to it wasn't 'concrete' enough. It was a big room with big things in it. That's about as technical as I get. The guide rattled off all sorts of things about generators, pressure, and gizmos from sci-fi novels that turn water current into energy to power light bulbs.

The two blue cylinders are called the governors, which looked like giant water heaters to me. I can't recall their actual purpose, but I do recall they aren't there for political reasons. Although, they are painted blue and have a "danger" sign, so perhaps they are a bit political.

The yellow railing on the left of the photo might be one of the generators Those are the doohickeys that spin around in circles real fast and harvest the power, right?

Moving on.

As we walked from one room to the next, we passed a large board with supersized wrenches and tools hanging on it. At first I thought it was just a fun decoration, until I comment such and our guide said, "No, the guys actually use those." I snapped a photo with T standing next to them. He is six foot tall if that gives you an idea to their size.

We walked passed some historical photos hanging on the wall, and a board with all the employees' pictures, which included one of the head honcho's dog labeled "runs the show."

Next we were lead into the control room. (Remember, I wasn't allowed to take photographs there.) There wasn't much to see, except dozens of TV monitors with feeds to the security cameras. The control room operator saw us, quickly yanked his feet of his desk, and gave us a friendly greeting. He told us all about the cameras and what information they use, how many tons of water blast through the dam at full capacity blah blah blah. I got the impression it was a boring job most of the time as I doubt there are many folks prowling around this dam. Based on how excitedly he was talking about a giant concrete structure, it sealed in my theory of scarce visitors.

After the tour, I snapped a photo of the propeller statue they had out front. Our guide said it was an old one as they switched to one with four blades because it was more economical and, therefore, more efficient. I think I was supposed to remember how that tied into everything she had just showed us, but by then the propeller was simply a work of art.

That sums up our visit to Box Canyon Dam...I think. Hopefully I didn't forgot about anything...

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