The Hoover Dam sits wedged into Black Canyon, holding back the force of the mighty Colorado River on the Nevada-Arizona border. It’s an incredible feat of engineering built in just five years during the Great Depression. Originally called the Boulder Dam it was constructed to prevent flooding in the area, to help with irrigation in the desert and to generate hydro-electricity. If you’re in Las Vegas, which is less than 35 miles away, Hoover Dam is a must-do day trip.
I’ll admit I wasn’t that bothered about visiting the Hoover Dam during our road trip. I’d seen it from a helicopter ride on a trip to the Grand Canyon about 9 years ago. It looked impressive from the air but I didn’t feel the need to see it up close. That’s the great thing about travelling with friends; you find yourself doing things you might not otherwise consider. Our mate Julien works in construction and was keen to visit Hoover Dam so we decided to stop by en route from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon. I’m so glad we did because it was fascinating and, of course, around one million visitors a year can’t be wrong can they…
Hoover Dam Memorial
After parking up we passed the bronze Winged Figures of the Republic, one either side of the US flag. There’s also a memorial to the 96 construction workers who lost their lives building the dam. Both features had a distinct Art Deco feel to them. It’s incredible to think that the dam was built by hand in just five years and was finished two years ahead of schedule, under budget. That just wouldn’t happen nowadays.
Lake Mead Water Levels
We were instantly drawn to the sparkling blue waters of Lake Mead which was created when the dam was built. The lake was last full in 1998 but due to lengthy droughts the volume has fallen by over sixty percent and water levels have dropped over a hundred feet. That’s one big tide mark. The man-made lake is a popular recreational area used for fishing, boating and water activities.
Hoover Dam Intake Towers
Four 338ft high Intake Towers stand in the waters of Lake Mead and siphon water into the power plant. There are two towers on the Nevada side and two in Arizona.
The two towers nearest the dam each display a clock – one shows ‘Arizona time’ and the other ‘Nevada Time’. There was no time difference when we there as it was still summer time. In autumn Nevada switches back to Pacific Daylight Time and will then be an hour behind Arizona.
Where Two States Collide
If you’ve ever felt the need to be in two places at once you can stand by the plaque below with a foot in each state. It marks the border where Nevada and Arizona meet.
We walked the length of the top of the dam to the Arizona side passing Art Deco styled lifts and features. We then crossed over the road to take a closer look at the dam itself. Until I was standing on top of it looking down I had no idea how huge Hoover Dam is. It’s immense and the vast expanse of curving concrete just goes on and on. It’s an incredible feat of engineering and also rather elegant.
The Hoover Dam is an arch-gravity dam; thickest at the bottom at 660ft and just 45ft at the top and it’s 726ft high. It’s filled with around 6.6 million tons of concrete (3.25 million cubic yards); that’s enough to pave a 16ft wide and 8-inch thick path from New York to San Francisco. Below the dam is the power plant and the canyon wall outlet works.
The Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge
The two-lane road over the dam was in use for passing traffic right up until 2010. But 14,000 vehicles crossing daily became unmanageable and more recently they were also considered a security risk. The Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, the second-highest in the US, opened in 2010. The arching bridge now carries traffic between Nevada and Arizona states on its four-lane highway. You can take a short walk up to the 840 ft bridge and walk across to take in the views of the dam with Lake Mead behind. It’s a great spot for photographs.
Hoover Dam Tours
We didn’t have time to take a tour whilst at Hoover Dam as we needed to get to the Grand Canyon but there are various tours available and some include entry to the visitor centre. Some Hoover Dam tours are bookable online or at the visitor centre. However, the one-hour tour which takes you deep into the interior tunnels of the dam can only be booked at the visitor centre on the day and only 20 persons are allowed per tour. More information on available tours and how to book can be found here.
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How to get from Las Vegas to Hoover Dam
It’s just a 45-minute drive from Las Vegas to the Hoover Dam. From The Strip drive east on Flamingo Road or Tropicana Avenue to U.S. 515 South, which automatically turns into US Highway I-93 South. Continue on US Highway 93 South for about 20 miles to Boulder City. Once in Boulder City, turn left at the second set of lights (there are only 2). Continue on US 93 to the Dam on the Nevada/Arizona (about 7 miles from Boulder City). Turn off onto state Route 172, a two-mile access road to the dam and parking areas. If you don’t turn off onto Route 172 you’ll stay on US 93 and continue over the bypass bridge into Arizona.
The Hoover Dam does not have a street address. Use the coordinates: N 36.016222, W -114.737245 to locate it using GPS or Sat Nav.
There are also many coach tours taking full and half-day tours from Vegas which can be booked along the Strip or through your hotel concierge.
Parking at Hoover Dam
There is parking for 450+ in the garage on the Nevada side of the dam (open daily from 8 a.m. to 5:15 p.m) at a charge of $10.00 fee per car. But you don’t need to pay for parking – drive across the dam itself, which is a must-do, and you’ll find free parking in various areas on the Arizona side.
So, if you’re in Vegas go visit the Hoover Dam dammit! Have you been somewhere that you loved a whole lot more than you thought you would? Do tell…