Grand Coulee Dam laser show gets new look, story

Dori O'Neal, Tri-City HeraldMay 23, 2014 

The annual summer laser light show at the Grand Coulee Dam is getting a new look after 25 years.

The show, titled "One River, Many Voices," features changes in the storyline from years past.

“This is a brand new show this year, with a new script, graphics and soundtrack,” said Lynne Brougher, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation.

The traditional soaring eagle and Neil Diamond singing Coming to America are gone. The new story is told through oral histories and uses the actual voices of people who were there for the construction — including the voice of President Harry Truman when he dedicated the dam.

It tells a balanced story of how the current landscape was formed beginning about 13,000 years ago, the early inhabitants and lifestyle of the area, and how the dam changed the area and the nation.

The annual show is an awesome sight, drawing thousands of visitors to the Bureau of Reclamation’s visitor center at nightfall from Memorial Day weekend to the end of September.

If you haven’t yet experienced it, the fun starts when the sun goes down.

A deep rumbling, like distant thunder, is followed by a chest-pounding roar as millions of gallons of water begin to gush over the spillways of North America’s largest hydroelectric dam.

Animated images begin dancing across the Earth’s largest screen — the 13-acre concrete face of the dam itself, twice as tall as Niagara Falls.

The show runs about 30 minutes and there is no cost to sit in the park at the base of the dam and watch. Bleachers, picnic tables and a grass lawn are available for seating. The narration is broadcast through speakers and the lights are projected from the visitor center on a bluff.

For those who prefer to watch from the cliffs above, the music and narration is aired on radio station 90.1 FM.

When planning your visit, make sure to take a tour of the mighty structure. They’re offered throughout the day.

The dam took almost 10 years to build, beginning in 1933 and finishing in 1942. It was initially designed to be just 290 feet high, which would generate electricity but not support irrigation. When then-president Franklin D. Roosevelt visited the site in 1934, he approved increasing the dam’s height to 550 feet, which enabled irrigation of the Columbia Basin.

When completed, Grand Coulee was the largest hydroelectric dam in the world and the largest concrete structure in the world. Today, it’s the fifth-largest dam on Earth.

— The Wenatchee World contributed to this report.

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