Hoover Dam – is one of America’s national treasures and is a must visit for anyone who is staying in the Las Vegas area. It is located about 35 minutes outside of Las Vegas off of US Highway 93 heading towards Phoenix, Arizona.
There is a security checkpoint on the road several miles from the actual Dam itself. Random checks are conducted but chances are you will be waived through.
Parking is in the recently constructed parking garage built right into the side of a hill. Its brown and somewhat blends in with the local terrain. Stairs outside lead down to the main road from any level in the garage. You cross the road and then enter the visitor center. You will buy your tickets and then go through the metal detectors and security section. During the busy times tours run about every 15 minutes or so.
Tours are in 3-4 individual sections each with its own guide. The start of the tour begins with a short film about the Dam and its construction. After the film your group will be escorted into an elevator which drops over 500 feet at 6mph and takes you from towards the top of the damn directly to the bottom in a matter of minutes.
Security is very tight and once exiting the elevator you must stay with your group and tour guide. A great photo op is the big room at the bottom of the dam where the generators are housed – however you have to be very quick with taking a picture. There is only a minute or two for photos as your group leaves.
Each one of the generators you see at the bottom of the dam puts out enough wattage to power about 100,000 homes. The generators that are “on” are indicated by the lights on top of each generator. The lights will be lit when the generator is being used and more generators will be used typically during high demand periods such as in the afternoons during the summer, when more power is in demand. There is not enough water at Hoover Dam to power all the generators at the same time.
After the short presentation near the generators you will file back into the elevator and shoot back up to the observation deck where you will listen to a short presentation by another guide.
After the tour take some time to walk up to the copper colored visitor center. This is a great spot to overlook the dam and to get pictures. The main road that ran on top of the dam has now been diverted around the dam. A massive very long new composite concrete/steel arched bridge opened in late 2010 about 1600 below the dam across the gorge. The first cable for this bridge was strung in early 2006 – the bridge spans almost 2000 feet!
Hoover Dam holds back Lake mead and is situated in two states, Nevada & Arizona. Without Hoover Dam there can be no Las Vegas. The present and the future of this city is tied to the water and in part the power that is supplied here.
The summer’s can be extremely hot and crowded here! There are often people of many different nationalities visiting the Dam. The least crowded times of the year are in the dead of winter – during January and February. The weather also can be quite a bit colder during these months but can reach the low to mid 60’s during the day.
Regardless of the time of year, be sure to walk across the entire dam on the sidewalk from the Nevada side to the Arizona side. Its very interesting to look over the railing straight down. Another highlight is the huge overflow tunnel.
One tunnel is located on the Arizona side right at the edge of the dam. This is a must visit if you walk across the top of the Dam – however you may not be able to look straight down this tunnel as recent signage has been posted prohibiting visitors from staring straight down the tunnel. Note that depending on the time of year you are there, the time may change one hour when you cross over the dam between the two states.
The entire bulk of the dam does not contain steel. It is concrete and wood webbing. The general arched shape of the dam is what gives it its great strength. The dam is also much thicker at the base than at the top. The concrete in Hoover Dam is still curing and will continue to do so for hundreds and thousands of years. Several years back, a team from Hoover Dam visited the Roman ruins and aqueducts and conducted studies – they found the concrete used by the Romans 2000 years ago was in fact still curing!
Huge tunnels were bored each 4000 feet long on both sides of the river below the actual dam – during the construction of the dam this carried water away from the river channel so the actual dam could be constructed in a dry area. If you see vintage photos of the dam construction you will notice that the river channel below the dam is completely dry!
There is a gift shop located at the parking garage. Its almost overflowing with trinkets and Hoover Dam related memorabilia. Near the elevators that lead up to the various levels of the parking garage is a small Hoover Dam photo stand. Here you can buy official photos of Hoover Dam. One of the best ones is when a huge US flag was draped over the front of the actual dam. Another neat one is of Hoover Dam on the very rare occasions when water is spurting out from both sides in front of the dam.
The official Hoover Dam Info site is: www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam