Hoover Dam continues to impress
The construction of Hoover Dam was an amazing achievement. Built between 1931-1935, the massive wedge of concrete and steel remains one of the engineering marvels of the world.
Indeed, it’s hard to believe that such a massive and technically-sound project was built without the aid of computers or pretty much any technology more sophisticated than slide rulers and internal combustion engines.
Located about 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas via U.S. 93, a visit to the dam is an opportunity to appreciate the vision and ingenuity of Americans, especially since it was built during one of the darkest periods in U.S. history, the Great Depression.
The best place to learn the story of Hoover Dam is the attractive welcome center that opened about a decade ago. The three-level, circular concrete structure does a good job of mirroring the dam’s original art deco design while incorporating modern amenities.
The middle level is actually the entrance to the visitor center. After parking in the 400-car garage, visitors walk to an escalator that transports them to the main lobby.
From here, they can either be seated in a modern theater to view an historical movie about the dam’s construction or line-up for a guided dam tour.
The lobby itself has a couple of exhibits including a wooden kayak used in 1921-22 during the survey to select the dam’s location. Named “Marble,” the boat was one of three used by the Southern California Edison Company and the U.S. Geological Survey to study the Green and Colorado rivers to find a suitable dam site.
The 18-foot boat is constructed of oak, spruce and cedar and was designed to carried whenever the surveyors reached shallow places in the rivers.
Other exhibits describe the Lake Mead National Recreation Area (created by water backed up by Hoover Dam) as well as construction artifacts and photographs.
The film is fascinating because it was made shortly after completion of the dam and includes historic footage of the construction. Photographed in black and white, in that classic 1930s newsreel-style—which is fun to watch—the film has been updated with a more contemporary narrative.
Among the movie’s highlights are scenes of workers riding high above the dam construction site on various platforms, footage of dynamite explosions during excavation of the site, and shots of water being diverted around the dam during construction.
Tours of the dam have changed from those offered during previous decades. Instead of lining up above the dam, standing adjacent to U.S. Highway 93 and waiting for an elevator, visitors are whisked from the lobby to the base of the dam in two, 50-passenger, high-speed elevators.
During the 25-minute tour, visitors can see the dam’s massive hydroelectric generators, power transformers, transmission line towers and other equipment.
They also walk about 300-feet into a tunnel carved in the canyon wall, through a construction tunnel built in the 1930s, to stand atop a 30-foot diameter pipe that is filled with water rushing into the generators.
The tour reveals other unique aspects of the dam’s construction such as wonderful terrazzo tile floors, carefully handcrafted in Southwestern Native American designs, as well as sculptor Oskar J.W. Hansen’s magnificent art deco bronze statues entitled “Winged Figures of the Republic,” found adjacent to the dam.
A relatively recent addition to the Hoover Dam landscape is the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, a 1,900-foot concrete span located about 1,500 feet downstream from the dam.
The bridge, which was completed in 2010, stands about 900-feet above the Colorado River and offers spectacular views of both the dam and the surrounding canyon.
The visitor center is open daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas) from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is a $10 charge for parking and $10 for the visitor center.
Tickets for the Powerplant Tour (the basic tour) are: $15 for adults (17-61), $12 for seniors (over 62) and $12 for juniors (4-16). Children under 3 are free.
A more comprehensive two-hour Dam Tour is also available. Tickets are $30 per participant and it is not open to children under 8 or accessible to visitors with wheelchairs or crutches.
For more information contact the Bureau of Reclamation, 702-494-2517 or go to http://www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam/service/index.html.
Rich Moreno covers the places and people that make Nevada special.