Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Dam Tourists!

Before going on a public tour, I try to give the tour guide a heads up. My dad and I are not your average tourists. Unfortunately, I forgot to warn our Glen Canyon Dam tour guide. Caught unprepared for our detailed, unusual questions, she tried to deflect: “I’m not allowed to give those specifications, but you can look them up on the internet.”

By halfway through the tour, she was exasperated. Unable to answer our questions, she began questioning us. What was our background? Why did we want to know this stuff? Simple curiosity didn’t seem to be an acceptable answer.

I had to remind my dad of the time he almost got thrown off the coffee plantation tour in Hawaii because they thought he was an industrial spy. Glenn Canyon Dam is protected by Homeland Security, and I really didn’t want to get into too much trouble. So we just closed our mouths for the remainder of the tour.

On the elevator ride back to the top of the dam, our guide admitted to us that she usually goes all day without having a question she hasn’t already answered a hundred times before. All of our questions were new.

When she returned to the comfort zone of the front desk, she immediately turned me over to the NPS ranger for answers. The ranger tried to refer me to the movie in the auditorium, but I had too many comparable statistics from Hoover Dam to be placated by a general video. The ranger retreated to the back room and sent out a superior.

I urge the NPS and the tour guides at Glenn Canyon to think about our questions and their mission to educate their visitors. For most people, the standard tour is enough. But for the occasional visitor who wants to know more, have knowledgeable guides on staff who can engage in a detailed discussion.

As with most of the tours I go on, I’m always trying to answer the question, “Why do people want to see this?” In the case of the Glenn Canyon Dam, clearly tourists don’t want to learn about electricity generation. If they do learn the fundamentals of hydro-electric power, I think that’s great. But a quick check in at the coal powered power plant only two miles from the dam confirmed my suspicions. There were no regularly scheduled tours, no gift shop, no interest from the public.

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