The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter

Desert Ramparts


5361 Anne Road Detention Dam, one of the flood control structures along the periphery of Las Vegas. CLUI photo

LAS VEGAS, THE NATION'S SUPREME desert city, lies in a riverless valley, baking in the sun. When it rains, which it does especially in the summer months when intense heat off the ground pushes air masses high into the sky, storms can be sudden and strong, generating flash floods that threaten the city. 
Defense against this attack has grown with the expanding urban land itself. Following a flood control master plan, there are now more than 100 detention basins in and around Las Vegas to absorb the shock of flood, and hundreds of miles of concrete channels to contain the flow through the city.
The headworks of this system are a battery of bulwarks that ring the city at its outermost edge, beyond which little is built. These basins, dams, and dikes, some several miles long, divert the overland flow, which can come from any direction, and funnel it into the drainage system.
These outermost structures are in some ways like the walls of a medieval city, built to protect the populace within. In this incarnation these monumental forms of mounded rock and concrete, massive sculptures of aridity and stasis, are at a scale beyond human form, constructed as they are to isolate a city from its environment. 
In 2017 the CLUI produced two exhibits about these constructed landforms, which though recently constructed for utilitarian reasons, can resemble the ruins of an ancient civilization. These exhibitions, comprised of aerial video, photographs, text, and maps, generated by the CLUI, were shown at CLUI Los Angeles and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. ♦

5362 One exhibit, shown at CLUI Los Angeles from July 7 to September, 17, 2017, was titled Desert Ramparts: Defending Las Vegas from the Flood, and featured static-kinetic drone video of peripheral basins and dams. A second version, pictured here, was shown at the Donna Beam Gallery at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, September 19 to November 10, 2017. UNLV photo