Superstition Mountains at sunset, from Lost Dutchman State Park in Arizona


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"Hoover Dam is a testimony to a country's ability to construct monolithic projects in the midst    
of adverse conditions. Built during the Depression, thousands of men and their families came to 
Black Canyon to tame the Colorado River. It took less than five years, in a harsh and barren
land, to build the largest dam of its time. Now, years later, Hoover Dam still stands as a
world-renowned structure . . . a National Historic Landmark . . . and one of
America's Seven Modern Civil Engineering Marvels."
~ U.S. Bureau of Reclamation website/historical information page
It took me almost 70 years to finally visit Hoover Dam, although I've traveled in the Las Vegas area several times previously. Jim has been there previously but it's been many years. So we thought seeing the dam would be something different for us to do on this trip.

Except for the partial government shutdown that (partially) affected several of our plans to visit federal lands while we were in Nevada this month, it was otherwise a pretty good day to visit Hoover Dam. We were glad it was still open to visitors.

The best overall views of the dam and power plant are from the
pedestrian walkway on the Memorial Bridge on Hwy. 93.

The weather was perfect, the dam area wasn't very crowded on this weekday morning (January and February are the slowest visitation months), and volunteers took the place of some government personnel affected by the partial shutdown.

In addition, Lake Mead is at about normal depth now, not real low from the many years of recent drought. I was as interested in the lake scenery at and near Hoover Dam as the dam itself, and I wasn't disappointed by its beauty:

Lake Mead several miles north of Hoover Dam

The visitor center and main elevator down into the dam are under renovation this winter but it wasn't a big deal to us to miss those features. For one thing, we left the dogs at the RV park and didn't want to be gone all day. And there were plenty of interpretive signs along the walkways and overlook bridge for us to read to understand the history and significance of this impressive structure.

We had also read enough information online before we even got there so we'd know what to expect, what was closed, and what we wanted to do.


Water management is a big deal in the arid states in the western third of the United States, often underestimated by folks who live east of the Mississippi River. Individuals and groups have been feuding over water rights since early pioneers began claiming territory in the West. (They still do.)

Enter the Bureau of Reclamation in 1902. This government agency constructed and monitors over 600 dams and reservoirs, power plants, and canals in seventeen western states, projects that facilitated homesteading and economic development in the West.

Power plants at Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam is one of several dams that were built to control the 1,400-mile-long Colorado River to prevent flooding; store water for irrigation, municipal, and industrial use; and provide hydroelectric power, fish and wildlife habitat, and recreational opportunities.

Seven western states and Mexico share the waters of the Colorado River and its tributaries. Various treaties and contracts determine how the water is apportioned to each state and for what uses. I've read just enough about it to know it's complicated.

Plaque commemorating this as "A modern civil engineering wonder of the United States," one of seven
selected by the American Society of Civil Engineers; the plaque shows the NV/AZ state line.

Construction of this dam on the state line between Arizona and Nevada was also quite complicated, more than I want to get into here. You can find all sorts of general and detailed information on the Reclamation website, starting at this link with common FAQs, and the National Park Service website.

Wander around those websites for lots of interesting stories about the construction of the dam and the bridge overlooking it, historical and modern photos, special events, and touring information.


Because it's so dam impressive??

OK, that's a poor attempt at some humor. But then, so is the tour bus with the sign on it that says "DAM BUS." I can just hear the driver and passengers joking about getting on the dam(n) bus:

Because Hoover Dam is a National Historic Landmark, it is part of the National Park System. Approximately seven million visitors from around the world come to see this impressive structure every year. Despite the heat, the busiest time to visit is from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

The dam itself is a massive concrete arch-gravity structure that is 660 feet thick at its base, 726 feet tall, and wide enough at the top that it still carries some vehicular traffic from old U.S. 93.

Fortunately, most of that traffic now zooms by on the recently-built bypass bridge which soars over the canyon just downstream from the dam:

There is also a protected walkway for pedestrians high up on that bridge, offering spectacular views of the dam, river, and Lake Mead. That's where I took the first picture in this entry. I'll show some more photos from the bridge later on.

Visitors can still choose to drive over the dam but not many people were doing that this morning. We wanted to read signs and see more things by walking over it, so we parked in the high-rise parking deck on the Nevada side of the river.


The nearest town to the dam is Boulder City, which is on US 93 southeast of Las Vegas and Henderson, NV.

Instead of taking freeways through metro Vegas today, we drove out and back from our campsite at Nellis AFB in the north end of the city via Lake Mead Blvd. (NV 147) and Lakeshore Road, which dead ends at US 93 a few miles west of Hoover Dam. That's a very scenic route along the lake through the southern part of Lake Mead National Recreation Area:

Purple dot = RV park at Nellis AFB; red dot = Hoover Dam

Although some facilities in the NRA are closed due to the partial government shutdown (this is Day 21 of the shutdown), the roads are open and no one was collecting entrance fees. We get in free with our senior national parks passes, so that didn't affect us. The NRA is losing money, though, from loss of gate fees, camping and concession fees, etc.

We took narrow, winding SR 172 off US 93, following signs down to the dam. Well before reaching the dam itself all vehicles coming in from either the Nevada or Arizona side are inspected for weapons, bombs, etc. The security guard wanted to see inside our truck but no one asked us for our IDs today.

We paid $10 to park in a high-rise deck on the Nevada side of the dam, near the visitor center (#2 on the map below). There is some free parking on the Arizona side of the dam, and room for larger RVs.

Hoover Dam is open to the public every day from 5 AM to 9 PM, per this government webpage. You can see it for free if you don't park in the deck or want to do a tour. Check the website for current tour times, descriptions, and costs.

As mentioned earlier, the visitor center and access to the power plants are under renovation so we weren't able to go into those places today.

We spent about an hour meandering around the top of the dam to the other side and back, reading lots of informative panels and plaques along the way, and admiring the immense size of the dam, intake towers, and powerhouses.

It's a long, slippery slope down to the powerhouses from this perspective!

It's hard to comprehend the scale of the place unless you're standing on top of the dam (picture above) or up on the memorial bridge walkway . . . and looking down at the miniature people and vehicles so far below you at the powerplants.


The walkway from the parking deck to the top of the dam goes past several interpretive panels and the attractive "Winged Figures of the Republic" plaza:

View of some power lines and dam from parking deck (above); visitor center (below)


Nice tribute to the black Lab (?) who became the worker's mascot
at the construction camp. Below is part of the panel describing his role.

There are lots of Art Deco architectural details in and around Hoover Dam, as described on panels at the Winged Figures plaza


We walked back and forth across the top of the dam from the Nevada to the Arizona side. Here are some additional photos from that perspective:


We could walk on both sides of the dam.

Jim (above) looks at the survey marker (below) on the walkway at the NV-AZ border line.


Jim took my picture there, too.

View of Lake Mead to the north from the center of the dam

If you look at the diagram of the dam, you can see that both NV and AZ have two intake towers protruding out into Lake Mead. Both states have a large clock with the time -- an hour apart. The state line here is also the dividing line between the Mountain and Pacific time zone.

That must get confusing for workers and some visitors!

Jim looks down to the lake on the walkway toward the AZ intake towers.

The outer Nevada intake tower (R) and Spillway House (L)


As we drove back up to US 93 we stopped at the parking area for the bridge overlook. Exhibits on the plaza and at the top of the ramp explain how the Memorial Bridge was constructed.

On this sign, we learned that it took a decade to design and build the bridge, which opened up to traffic in 2005. Five years were needed for design work, relocation of electrical transmission lines, and construction of new highway approaches. It took another five years to build the bridge itself.


Ramps allow visitors who can't use the stairs to access the bridge walkway.

Sample rock cores removed for analysis by engineers before construction
of the bridge are displayed along the path before you enter the upper plaza.

This is called a deck arch bridge. It's a unique hybrid structure to span this deep canyon,
designed with enough strength to withstand potential earthquakes and high winds.

Here's another picture of the bridge, as seen from the top of the dam.

Jim waits at the entrance to the walkway across the bridge. Traffic on US 93 whizzed by at 65 MPH
or more on the other side of the concrete barrier but we were busy admiring the dam and felt safe.



We walked out and back to the middle of the bridge, down to the truck, and returned to Nellis AFB on the route along Lake Mead. I'll show more photos of the lake in the next entry.

Next entry: scenes from two trips in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Casey-Girl, and Holly-Pup

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2019 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil