Monday, September 20, 2010

The Tunnel People of Las Vegas

For many years, the Las Vegas valley would flood every time it rained.  Locals will remember the Charleston underpass underwater, the Great Boulder Highway flood and the Las Vegas Strip turning into a river.  Enter the Clark County Flood Control District - the entity in charge of stopping those floods.  A few years ago, they began building concrete lined washes and large flood control tunnels under the entire city.  The tunnels have many entrances that are accessible all over the valley.

Picture 7
Entrance to the Underground City
One such entrance happens to be near Dean Martin Drive (previously Industrial Blvd) and Tropicana.  These tunnels extend for over 200 miles under Las Vegas and Henderson and most people don't even know they exist.  I say most people, because some know all too well that they exist, as these tunnels have become their home.

If you enter into the tunnels pictured here, you will find that it takes you under I-15 and then under the strip.  Every so often you will find light through a storm grate in the street and catch glimpses of the people walking above on the strip.

One of the many married couples living in the tunnels.
It's a strange feeling you get when you are this deep into the tunnels, as if the tunnels were to fill up with water, you could get into trouble - fast.  After about half a mile into the tunnel you could run into some of the local inhabitants.  They end up moving down there due to drug problems, mental disorders or just plain hard times and many have lived here for years.  They rarely encounter flood problems as the tunnels are very large and built to handle very large volumes of water.  There are garbage dumps, toilet areas and rain water showers that the inhabitants have built for personal and community use.  Some go so far as to set up multi-room homes with bedrooms complete with furniture.  There are estimated to be hundreds of people living down there with more moving in everyday.  

These tunnels are so long that you can follow this particular one underground until it exits again near the Hard Rock Casino on Paradise Rd, five miles away.  It turns into a concrete lined wash and then into an unlined dirt wash for a bit.  It travels all the way through Green Valley in Henderson and continues under Boulder Hwy, then Broadbent Rd and into the main Las Vegas wash that feeds into Lake Las Vegas and the ultimately to Lake Mead. In fact, all of the tunnels and washes in the Vegas valley end up in the main Las Vegas wash.  Look for it on google earth if you want to follow it  It's an amazing site to see.  While hiking these washes and tunnels, I have found stray dogs, coyotes, very old horse shoes and countless other interesting things.  They really are worth exploring....  Just don't do it in the rain!

Many more bloggers and people that actually get paid have done stories on these tunnels, so I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to find out more and comment if you like!

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