Can you imagine cleaning latrines for 7,000 men in 120-degree heat?
What if you were the only janitor hired to maintain porta-potties during the construction of Hoover Dam?
Could you maintain a 7-day-a-week schedule for five years, tossing limestone into holes, and restocking the never-ending use of toilet paper?


My sole purpose for visiting Boulder City, Nevada was to honor the man who did just that.
Cleaning is probably one of the most repetitive and thankless occupations known to man. For many, cleaning occupations are seen as “less than” jobs, sometimes even below blue-collar standards. Cleaning positions have become gendered, women known as housekeepers and men referred to as janitors. Like in most professions, men make more money as a janitor as opposed to a female hotel housekeeper.

Society takes hotel housekeepers for granted when staying at a hotel. I have always appreciated a clean, pube free bathroom, not to mention spotless sinks and shower stalls. We are the first to complain if our hotel room does not meet our standards, however, we are the last to acknowledge, appreciate, compliment and TIP housekeeping for a clean room.

The same can be said for janitors. Under appreciated, taken for granted, and without representation; unless their company is unionized. On any given day, two million janitors throughout the USA will work their butts for a public that shows little appreciation for their contribution to the country’s economy and society.

As a backpacker, I am very comfortable relieving my bladder unshielded in the wilderness. My hiking buddies and I have five feet rule. Turn your back, be at least five feet away, and magic happens.

Peeing at 13'000 feet

Peeing at 13’000 feet

Hiking in slot canyons sometimes does not allow for the five feet rule. Stage fright is not an option on a five-day backpacking trip. th (1)

Over the years, I have boycotted porta potties due to the stench and lack of maintenance. Fellow hikers have reported their car keys tragically falling into the abyss of human waste and I have heard stories about bears mistaking the green phone booth for a dumpster.


As a child, I remember my mother complaining about the repetitiveness of house cleaning. Consistent with the time period,  it was considered a gendered job. Television commercials at the time supported this belief: all the cleaning product ads featured women.



As a  kid, I had a messy room with an immaculate, cataloged, record collection. My clothes carpeted my bedroom floor while my drawers and closet remained empty. To my mother’s disgust, I could account for all my belongings on the floor. Perhaps this was my pubescent brain in action or it was simply my individual sense of defiance.


As a teenager, it was common practice to be given gendered chores as punishment for bad behavior. Girls cleaned the house while the boys mowed the lawn. I often wondered why cleaning chores were used as punishment. The message was clear, cleaning is a task most people loath. It’s hard to appreciate and value a daily living task when it’s seen as a punishment.

The first song I ever heard about cleaning was John Farnham’s song Sadie. Originally I heard my mother sing the song around the house, only to be horrified to find out it was a hit song on the radio.

Oh Sadie, the cleaning lady,
Her aching knee’s not getting any younger,
Well her red detergent hands,
Have for years not held a mans,
And time would find her hard in spite of hunger.

The first song I ever heard glorifying hard yakka was Roy Orbison’s, “Working for the Man.” Perhaps this song would be more fitting to the solo janitor at Hoover Dam.


When I first moved to the states in 1992, I read Booker T Washington’s book “Up From Slavery”. I feel one of Booker’s defining moments was his unusual entry exam into college.


As Booker himself explained it: After some hours had passed, the head teacher said to me: “The adjoining recitation-room needs sweeping. Take the broom and sweep it.”It occurred to me at once that here was my chance. Never did I receive an order with more delight. I knew that I could sweep, for Mrs. Ruffner had thoroughly taught me how to do that when I lived with her. I swept the recitation-room three times. Then I got a dusting-cloth and I dusted it four times…When I was through, I reported to the head teacher. She was a “Yankee” woman who knew just where to look for dirt. She went into the room and inspected the floor and closets; then she took her handkerchief and rubbed it on the woodwork about the walls, and over the table and benches. When she was unable to find one bit of dirt on the floor, or a particle of dust on any of the furniture, she quietly remarked, “I guess you will do to enter this institution.” I was one of the happiest souls on earth. The sweeping of that room was my college examination, and never did any youth pass an examination for entrance into Harvard or Yale that gave him more genuine satisfaction. I have passed several examinations since then, but I have always felt that this was the best one I ever passed.

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After reading Booker’s book, it changed the way I viewed medial tasks. Cleaning was his ticket to college, and it reminded me regardless of the task, always give your best effort, because at the end of the day you are representing your name and credibility.
With Booker’s cleaning experience cemented in my heart, I headed to Boulder City to pay homage to perhaps the only statue in America that honors a janitor.


Historically speaking, Boulder City was essentially a government camp for Hoover Dam workers. The camp contained large dormitories for single men, and one, two, and three-room cottages for families. The on-site mess hall served six thousand meals a day.


As I wandered down Boulder City’s old town area, I was greeted by Hoover Dam’s solo janitor “Alabam.”


Alabam cleaned latrines for seven thousand men in one hundred and twenty-degree heat. Alabam maintained a seven-day-a-week work schedule, tossing lime stone into holes, and restocking the never-ending use of toilet paper.

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There will never be another Alabam; however, he does represent more than two million janitors working in the USA, not to mention the millions of housekeepers cleaning homes, hotels, hospitals and government institutions. Many of us have walked by the school janitor or avoided eye contact with the hotel housekeeper. A blue-collar worker is just as important and valued as a white-collar worker, even though the salaries are not indicative of that.
I now live in the Arizona desert and have experienced one hundred degree plus temperatures. Every time I pass a porta potty I think of Alabam. How did he manage to clean and maintain porta potties for several thousand men.


We returned back to Boulder Beach campground after our long day hike to Hoover Dam.


I wanted to camp at Boulder Beach Campground because it hugs the Lake Mead shoreline.


Undoubtedly, it’s one of the most commercial camp grounds I have stayed at in a long time. I am used to backcountry camping, where the only luxury items are the ones you can fit into your pack. So the idea of having access to a flushing toilet, trash cans, picnic tables and a BBQ grill is rather upscale. With that said, $10 a night, it’s scenic, however still a little congested for my liking. Next door to the campground is an RV park.

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Some of the rigs here are full-time residents, while many RV’s are seasonal. Over the past 12 months, I have researched numerous ways of living differently and simpler. I have found a large community of people, young and old, who have decided to live and work on the road full time.

For mainstream, this may seem like an underground movement, but it really isn’t. Many generation X’ers are realizing they can live mobile while telecommuting to work. Generation X’ers are often referred to as the “lost” generation. If we are the LOST generation, then I also think we are the generation that FOUND ways to re-invent ourselves during harsh economic times. In the midst of a long-term recession and a disappearing middle class, we have become extremely resourceful and creative. Gone are the days of long term job security and stability with a company. I have found many of my fellow generation X’ers have been forced to diversify their professional resume, similar to their parent’s 401k plans.

Generation X’ers statistically are the most educated generation. 30% of us have a bachelor’s degree or higher. I feel we are the generation that was raised on change. Granted we were the first generation of latchkey kids. Daycare, divorce, and single parent homes became normalized during our childhood.


We are the generation that grew up with a rotary phone on the wall, introduced to the cordless phone, marveled over a cell phone, celebrated the pager,  not to mention our cheering of free internet phone calls.

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We were raised on records, yet we took great pride in our creation of mix tapes. We cheered for compact discs, and we embraced mp3’s. On Sundays you might even find us stalking garage sales looking to buy back our disregarded turntables from the late 80’s.


Personally, I feel our generation of change has enabled and permitted us to fast track our professional careers. Change was the norm growing up. We learned to adapt rather quickly, if we didn’t, we were left behind.

Baby Boomers have adapted too. The first generation to psycho analyze themselves, they are demanding to live more and wait less. Some retired boomers are finding part-time work in state and national parks that help offset costs while living mobile. Retired seniors are working as camp ground hosts. It pays minimally, however it does allow one to live rent and utility free. Artists are also finding that living on the road is a more affordable way to create, while not being committed to a mundane day job in order to pay rent. The dualism of an artist, creating and funding your passion until it becomes your full-time income, while juggling a soul less job to pay the bills in the meantime.

I have also met full timers trying to survive on disability. A disability check is an unlivable wage, especially if you are single. Living within simple means, means living creatively and becoming extremely resourceful. For many people disability is their soul income. Imagine living on 600 dollars a month? You may understand why living on the road full-time is a happier and cheaper way to live, as opposed to struggling to make a rent payment. I know many senior citizens held hostage by their social security check. After paying rent, and buying food, there are only pennies left.

Regardless of one’s income, I think we could all benefit from living a more resourceful life. Do we really need so much stuff? The great comedic sociologist George Carlin taught me this lesson many years ago.

Realistically, I see myself as a future tiny house builder. However recently I have been entertaining the idea of converting a bus into a home on wheels. I feel by mixing tiny house technology and my backpacker’s simplicity, I could create my dream all wheel drive home. Off course I would have a roof top deck, with an outdoor bedroom.

Imagine having a drivable open space? Something like this perhaps? Although,  I would have hard wood floors!


We returned back to camp to prepare and bunker down for a windy night. With the tent secured, Shadow took the time to tend to his toes.

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Poor Shads, he had never experienced so much friction from sand on his paws.


I was starting to wonder how unsettling the daily changes had been for him. For now, he lives day-to-day, and has no idea of where home is. Similar to his mama, he might be learning that home is really being at peace with yourself, embracing your surroundings, and being open to others around you.

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Throughout the night the winds howled. In Shadow’s mind the windy man had returned. The best defense: hide. Shadow opted for pulling the sleeping bag over his head in order to fend off the windy man. Under the covers he felt safe.


By morning the windy man had calmed down, yet his presence was still felt and heard.


Shadow was not impressed with the reality that we would be spending another day in the wind. I think the look says it all!


I decided a morning cuddle, stretch, and massage might turn Shadow’s mood around.


We were heading to Boulder City this morning, and later onto St. George, Utah. We had a long day ahead of us. I was hopeful that some dopamine and oxytocin production might change his attitude.





The Hoover Dam Historic Rail Road trail would be my first rails to trails hike since moving to America. The 7 mile round trip hike from Lake Mead to Hoover Dam was a planned pit stop on my way to Vermilion Cliffs, Arizona. Initially, my motivation to hike the railroad trail was to honor the many days Shadow and I spent train spotting in Fresno. During many of our urban walks we found ourselves negotiating railway crossings and hiking a long side the train tracks.

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Little did I know my rails to trail hike would quickly turn into a fact-finding mission about our seemingly un-policed use of the Colorado River and the South West’s drought.


I was also curious to learn more about Las Vegas’s dependency on Lake Mead. While many consider Las Vegas to be a city built on sin, you can add another to its list: water.


How does the driest city in America still use more water per capita than just about any other city in the country? Amazingly enough, Las Vegas charges less for water than many other communities across America. How does a city accommodate and offer hydration to a population that has tripled in two decades? Did city planners assume water would never be an issue in the desert? Ninety percent of Las Vegas’s water comes from Lake Mead. Deep beneath Lake Mead, a 23 foot tunnel boring machine is currently grinding through bedrock to ensure water continues flowing to the thirsty resort city.

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The 817 million dollar project is expected to be completed by October 2015.This six year project offers only a short-term water solution, while the long-term has yet to be addressed. Despite its wasteful reputation, Las Vegas reuses 93 percent of its water. The city paid homeowners $200 million to rip up their thirsty front lawns.Yes, that’s right, in Las Vegas we have to pay citizens to remind them they live in a dry desert and that green lawns are not indigenous to the area.


Are we unable as citizens to self police a resident oath?

Thy shall not have a front lawn in a desert community

Front lawns are now illegal in Las Vegas, yet golf courses are still commonplace. About 70 percent of the city’s nearly maxed-out water diversion from Lake Mead goes to landscaping. The real water hog is not people but grass. Almost three-quarters  of  Las Vegas water goes to public parks and golf courses.


Is it possible for Americans to understand that golf courses in desert environments are not sustainable?

Are we as a country, that resistant to change?

At times I feel our ignorance towards water policies is similar to our avoidance of the metric system. America remains the only industrialized nation that hasn’t made the metric system compulsory. Is it our stubbornness towards embracing change? Do we find comfort in familiarity? It seems if anyone should dare question our resistance to change, we start quoting our founding  fathers legacy to help support our lack of reasoning.


I contemplated the irony of Hoover Dam as Shadow and I headed out on our 7 mile hike. As a nation in the 1930’s, Hoover Dam came to symbolize what American industry and workers could accomplish, even in the midst of the Great Depression. Almost 90 years later, we are facing the Great Drought. I wonder what the West could accomplish if the entire nation understood the significance of the Colorado River, not to mention the severity of the drought.

Will our lack of response come to symbolize America’s failure to protect our most important resource?

Many researchers are expecting Lake Mead to be dry by 2021. Without water, where do we relocate an entire city to?

Should cities have a population cap based on resources?


As we passed through tunnel 1, I learned the railroad was built in 1931. It was specifically built to haul materials to construct Hoover Dam. The line ran from Boulder City to Hemenway Wash, then onto a concrete mixing plant on the rim of Black Canyon. Twenty four hours a day, 7 days a week, trains carried gravel, supplies, and machinery to the dam construction site.


During this hike I was hoping to get a better understanding of the harsh conditions workers and families endured during the dam construction. After the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression, an avalanche of unemployed headed out West. All were competing for a limited number of Hoover Dam construction jobs.


In desperate need of work, men traveled cross-country to earn a living in a desolate, wild, undeveloped and extremely hot environment. Arriving with families, a tent community was born known as “Ragtowns”.


The living conditions were extreme. Imagine having no electricity, and working outside in 119 degree temperatures? Would you be willing to live in unsanitary conditions and drink untreated water as part of your job requirement? Imagine having a husband working at the construction site and your child gets sick. The Ragtown hospital only serviced dam workers, not their spouses or children. The nearest medical service for your child is Las Vegas.


As I entered tunnel two, I wondered if minorities were employed during the construction of Hoover Dam. Show me a country, a problem, an achievement, even a historical event; sociology was an active participant.

I fell in love with sociology during college. I was blessed to have passionate sociology professors. Dr Mitra Hoshiar, Dr James McKeever, not to mention the very wise Canadian, Dr James Crossen. Sociology helped me understand the sexism I experienced as young girl growing up in Australia. Sociology taught me how easy it is to create radical social and cultural norms. Within a decade these ideas sadly become facts cemented in the uneducated mind.

Sex, gender, orientation, socio-economic, age, etc, have all been justified reasoning to deny, withhold, discriminate and destroy the dreams and hopes of minority populations. Consistent with the time period, African-Americans and Native Americans suffered from corporate and community discrimination during the construction of Hoover Dam.

Many African-Americans came to Las Vegas and Black Canyon with hopes of finding dam building jobs. Sadly, most were turned away because of racism. Less than 30 African Americans were hired, and they were only given jobs that white workers found undesirable. The fortunate 30 also dealt with housing discrimination. African Americans were not allowed to live in Ragtown. Instead, they endured daily commutes from Las Vegas.

Disregarding the abundance of Native Americans in the region, only a few were hired during the construction of Hoover Dam. Native American workers were given the most dangerous jobs, which included “high scaling”, dangling on the canyon walls while clearing obstructions. Unlike African-Americans, Native Americans were permitted to live in Ragtown.

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As we exited tunnel two I noticed Shadow was looking a tad tired. He had over-exerted himself at Kelso dunes the day before. I think his paws were still adjusting to the sand and gravel. Collectively, we both agreed to some bench therapy. This gave Shads time to rest, and for me, more time to ponder about the stories of  families living under such extreme conditions.

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At tunnel three, we spotted our first humans on the trail. In beautiful 70 degree weather I wondered why more people were not hiking the tunnel trail. It’s the perfect walk back in time, with a big finale ending at Hoover Dam.

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I am not sure how heavily promoted the trail is, however if you are ever by Lake Mead, this is a must hike. And yes, it’s free!

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As we continued through tunnel four and five, I noticed we would be walking through the Bureau of Reclamation’s property. The Bureau of Reclamation permits hikers and bikers to enter this area, with the understanding that gate five closes at sunset for security purposes.


We had now technically entered the security zone. I wonder if an Australian Curious George with a pit boxer mix was considered a threat? I also wondered how many security threats actually look like the man depicted in the sign. How many people wear a trench coat while hiking this trail?


Passing through the gate we headed for the switch yards. Shadows ears were somewhat alarmed by the buzzing noises coming from the power lines. How do you identify a sound when you have no understanding of the source?


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As we prepared for our urban descent to the Dam parking garage I wondered if security would let a dog pay homage to Hoover Dam. Is it possible we walked the entire trail only to observe the Dam from the parking structure? Either way, I was at peace with the outcome. The focus was the walk, and time spent with Shadow and Min.

I wondered how many paying tourists actually get to the see this side of Lake Mead and Hoover Dam. Have we become so focused on the end result, that we have forgotten about the human sacrifices, the struggles, the suffering, and yet only a few men will ever bask in the glory of the achievement. Do we simply visit to get our proof picture in order to scratch off our bucket list, and leave with little understanding of what we have seen? I have seen this happen a lot at the Grand Canyon. People will drive 8 hours to visit the Rim; yet will only spend a few hours visiting Mother Nature’s butt crack. Most visitors could not tell you how deep the canyon is, yet they could describe the best places to get lunch and what to buy from the gift shop.


Heading down the walking ramp I realized we were finishing on the top floor of the visitor parking structure. It was then that I realized we would need an elevator ride down to the Dam. Undoubtedly Shadow would be denied entry. Smiling, I need to get him registered as a service dog. I could say he helps me with my fear of walking and man-made structures lol.

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So this is how close we got to Hoover Dam. Our lookout point was from the top floor of the parking garage.



Shadow was content with the outcome, as it meant he could steal an afternoon nap before our 3.5 mile walk back to the trail head.


By 3 pm, we left the parking structure and headed back towards gate five. We had to be through it before sunset, otherwise we would be spending the night on the trail. Not to mention, we would be seen as a security threat.

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A very sluggish  Shadow was not happy about the idea of another 3.5 mile walk. The past week had felt like a boot camp for him. Since leaving Fresno, he had struggled with car sickness, camped for the first time at Brite Lake, met the windy man, spent time in Hinkley, met the creator of Bottle Tree Ranch, spent the night with our John Muir trail angel friends, cowboy camped on top of Kelso Dunes, and now found himself hiking though rail road tunnels. Little did he know he was also facing another night in a tent, with high winds forecasted.

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Hiking back through the switch yards we saw our first bighorn sheep of the trip. Shadow was not sure what they were, not to mention why they were hanging out on a cliff.


It was after the bighorn sheep sighting, I realized how much I missed my 35 mm SLR shooting days. Granted, lugging an extra ten pounds worth of camera gear up a trail is not fun, however neither is missing out on photo opportunities because your 50 buck camera maxes out at 100 mm. As convenient as my point and shoot has been, I feel I am at the point where I need to find an ultra zoom camera. Add this to my list of things to research once I am situated in Vermilion Cliffs.


As we headed into the homestretch, I was wondering if Shadow realized we were camp site bound. We would be camping at Lake Mead, and the windy man (he is scared of the wind) would be visiting us at 40 miles an hour tonight. It is during these times I am blessed to have my Alps tent. This tent has protected us in monsoonal storms, snow, hail, and 60 mile an hour winds. I am hoping Shadow feels as protected in the tent as I do.


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I completed the Historic trail with a greater appreciation for the men, women, and children who endured the elements and lack of living conditions in order for a better life. In return for their hard yakka and sacrifices a modern marvel was constructed that has made the south-west livable today.With that said, I feel we have misused and abused the Colorado River. The Colorado River is a living testament of what happens when we ask too much of a limited resource.