I-5: Making Waves at Shasta Dam

Road Journals Blog—It's the second biggest dam in the country, by mass, after the Grand Cooley. It features enough cement to wrap a sidewalk around the equator. And—what's this? There's a road that goes right over the top of the thing?

As we approached this breathtaking feat of engineering, otherwise known as the Shasta Dam, I couldn't resist: Out came the camera. I fired off this shot right through the windshield—which, to my utter surprise, sent a nearby security guard into Code Red.

He strode purposefully to our car and told me to lower my window.

"What were taking a picture of?" he asked.


The dam (background) and a security guard (foreground). | Chris Colin

I looked at him.

"Sorry?"

"I said, what were you taking a picture of?"

I looked at him some more, then looked through the windshield at the dam, then looked back at him. Finally I pointed at the 15-million ton concrete creation in front of us.

"The dam," I said. "What else would I be taking a picture of?"

I'm not in the habit of giving lip to security guards, but I'm also no fan of the well-documented trend of conflating amateur photography with aspiring terrorism.

I flashed a good-intentions smile to accompany my sass.

The guard looked at me. If the idea of arresting me crossed his mind, it didn't stay there long. A faint smile materialized just below the surface. For a lovely moment, we silently communed over the absurdity of the situation. Then the moment passed, and he told me where I could park. He even recommended the guided tour of the dam, as do I.

If you take away one fact, it's how utterly well-designed the place is. It would take a hell of a lot of snapshots to poke a hole in that concrete.

Chris Colin wrote about I-5 for the November/December 2011 issue of VIA.

This blog post was first published in November 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.