While you won’t want to miss a little action with the one-armed bandits while visiting Las Vegas this winter, once Lady Luck runs her course, there’s much to keep you entertained outside of Sin City. Simply head south on US 93 and take an amazing dam tour!
The site where the Colorado River was first dammed to form Lake Mead is one of the engineering wonders of the world. Hoover Dam straddles Nevada and Arizona, so depending on the season, you can be in two different time zones practically at the same time. Completed in 1935, the dam stores water for irrigation, municipal, and industrial use, generates hydroelectric power, controls floods, and provides a boatload of recreational opportunities. While that long list validates why Hoover Dam was built, the story behind the construction of the National Historic Landmark and the great number of people who made it possible during the bleak Depression years, is really impressive.
To thoroughly understand and appreciate the magnitude of the dam’s construction, take a guided tour. Knowledgeable employees provide detailed information and will answer all your questions (contrary to popular myth, bodies are not buried in the dam’s 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete). The tour begins with a film shown in the Visitor Center theatre, and ends with panoramic views from the observation deck. In between, visitors descend over 500 feet down into the wall of Black Canyon, walk through the 250-foot long tunnel to the power plant, and see eight huge generators. Exhibits inside the Visitor Center highlight some of the natural history of the region and show how the dam presently operates.
In addition to the dam itself, the Hoover Dam Bypass Project is another marvel. Watch the ongoing construction (expected completion is late 2010) from the dam’s observation deck. The project began in late January 2005, and once finished, the new 2,000-foot long Colorado River Bridge will span the Black Canyon 900-feet above the Colorado River. This new route is a 3.5-mile corridor beginning at approximately milepost 2.2 in Clark County, Nevada and crossing the Colorado River approximately 1,500 feet downstream of the Hoover Dam, then terminating in Mohave County, Arizona near milepost 1.7 on U.S. 93.
The Bypass can’t be finished soon enough—traffic tends to crawl over the dam now, but this shortcut should alleviate a lot of the wait. In the meantime, bring your patience and your sunglasses when you stop at Hoover Dam— to combat the glare from both the sun and fellow frazzled drivers!
Hoover Dam tour reservations and information: (866) 730-9097
Parking: A newer 450-space parking garage on the Nevada side of the Dam is convenient, but expect a $7 parking fee. Large RVs and vehicles with trailers (greater than 10.5 feet high and 23 feet long) must use a larger parking lot on the Arizona side of the Dam. Signs clearly point the way to both parking areas.
In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com