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There's an eyeful even at road level at the new Hoover Dam bypass bridge

Sometime this week, vehicular traffic will begin driving across the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, one of the most amazing feats of engineering in United States history. The bridge is the longest single-span arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere and one of the tallest in the entire world. It is just to the southwest of the Hoover Dam and stands 900 feet above the Colorado River.

Supposedly, it will save commuters 45 minutes to an hour instead of having to go down through the canyon and over the dam itself, but who cares? It's just absolutely magnificent to look at.

Last Saturday, some 20,000 people walked across the bridge in a public event that had to be closed after organizers received far too many requests for participation. I decided to go to the official ceremony two days earlier because it would be less ... oh, I don't know ... pedestrian. My civil engineer daughter is also a freelance photographer, so we went together.

We were going to fly, but the airfares jumped overnight from $109 to $278, with no explanation. I wonder if humans are even in charge of those things any more or have the machines taken over? You do recall that the evil machine was called SkyNet.

We ended up driving up there the night before because the media check-in was at 7:30 in the morning. We stayed at the Hacienda Hotel and Casino in Boulder City. When I called to book the room, I asked how much it would be and the woman said, "Twenty-nine dollars."

I said, "No, really?"

It really was $29. Nevada's economy blows.

The hotel was kinda old, but not horrible. It had a roof and air conditioning and a shower. What was really weird is that the TV in the room didn't get ESPN, but the ones in the bar by the elevators did. The room TV was really old. Somebody had carved "B.S." in the TV wood frame. I didn't know if that was a reaction to the ESPN omission or if the previous occupant had been Bugsy Siegel himself.

When I was making the reservation, I asked the woman if they had an exercise room. She laughed and said, "Uh, no. That's not why people come to Las Vegas." Well, why, then?

Las Vegas holds no appeal for me. I don't drink, I don't gamble, and I don't like fake breasts. Speaking of which, there was this 40ish blonde woman at the ceremony, walking around with a tiara on her head, a sash that read "Prom Princess" (I'm serious!), and perhaps the fakest breasts in America. If she had bent at the waist to pick up a quarter, they probably would have defied gravity and remained horizontal. I was going to ask her what she was doing at the ceremony, but I was afraid that she might respond.

The blessing was given by Leroy Spotted Eagle, who is the Spiritual Advisor for the Southern Paiute Tribe. Then there was a song. I think it was called "Damn White People." (I don't really think that was the title. It's just that if I were Native American, every song that I sang would be titled "Damn White People.")

That was followed by a dance by the Hualapai Multicultural Center Dancers. After the ceremony, I was sitting in one of the big tents that had been set up on the bridge when the entire dance group came in. I wanted to ask them about their culture when one of them started complaining that the per diem they got wasn't going to be enough for them to eat at the Mexican restaurant in Searchlight, Nev.

Damn Per Diem Allotment People.

The bridge is partly named for Pat Tillman, the former ASU football player who gave up a career in the NFL to join the Army after Sept. 11. He was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. The Nevada part of the bridge is named for former governor Donal Neil "Mike" O'Callaghan, who joined the service at age 16 and volunteered for combat in Korea, where he won the Silver Star and the Bronze Star, but lost the lower part of his left leg in the process. Before moving into politics, O'Callaghan was a history teacher at Basic High School in Henderson, where one of his prize students was Harry Reid.

The view of the dam from up on the bridge is cool, and yes, I thought about spitting, but I know that the terminal velocity of spit (or even chubby rain) is only about 10 meters per second, so I figured why bother. The real view is of the bridge from the dam. It's breathtaking and almost unreal. I highly recommend it.

There's a really cool time-lapse video of the bridge being built in the What's New section of the Hoover Dam Bypass website. I must have watched it 20 times on the big-screen TV in the tent and I saw something new each time. I talked to somebody who worked on the project and he said that when the two sections finally reached each other, they were off by about a half an inch. Not only that, the project went for a bid of $240 million in 2001 and came in at $240 million, nine years later.

Don't tell me Americans aren't badasses.

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