Exploring Hoover Dam, Nevada

Genie Davis April 22, 2012 No Comments

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The marvelous Hoover Dam. You hear about this mighty engineering marvel. You’ve seen pictures. You’ve seen movies filmed here.  The next time you are in or around Las Vegas with the family, I highly recommend going and experiencing it for yourself.

The Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge

There’s a new way to take a look at this Las Vegas adjacent attraction. The Mike O’Callaghan- Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, also called the Hoover Dam Bypass is an engineering marvel second only to the dam itself. It links southern Nevada to northern Arizona.

The new Pat Tillman bridge

The new Pat Tillman bridge

And this bridge does it in an impressive fashion. It spans over a thousand feet and stands over ninety stories. Located just about one quarter of a mile from the dam itself, it was built to make driving easier than the tourist and traffic clogged two lane road that leads directly in and out of the dam itself. But it’s a tourist destination in its own right, and the second highest bridge in the United States. Beneath the impressive span is the brilliantly turquoise blue Colorado River, and the rocky cliffs of Black Canyon.

We loved the overlook on the Nevada side. It gave us a tremendous view of the dam itself, constructed in the nineteen thirties, and Lake Mead’s sparkling waters. Like the Golden Gate Bridge, the Tillman is bound to become a destination in itself. The vastness of the bridge mirrors the vastness of the dam, and the kids were truly awed by the size of them both. The overpass, is in fact, a little daunting to drive over, because of its height.

Touring the Dam

After we’d spent some time at the overlook, we went on to take a tour of the dam itself. At the visitor center, you’ll find several tours available. The standard dam tour starts in the visitor’s center with a look at the exhibits detailing the history of the dam’s construction. We enjoyed the short film about the dam’s construction, and then rode an elevator down to the Hoover Dam Power Plant for the guided tour. My kids loved the tunnel drilled right into the rock, and a look at the dam from the top of the Penstock Viewing Platform, which we were wowed to realize is on top of one of the thirty foot wide pipes that bring almost a hundred thousand gallons of water every second – every second! – from Lake Mead to the dam’s power generators. More interesting still was a view from the power plant balcony that offers a great view of some of the dam’s generators. As cool as the actual dam itself is, the tour was rather dry. Particularly the emphasis on technical specifications went over the kids heads. It wasn’t so long as to induce major restlessness, but we were ready to emerge from the power plant to the visitor’s center again.

If you are visiting Las Vegas, a great way to tour the Hover Dam is via the Hover Dam Tour Company.  They offer a variety of tours, including a bus tours that departs daily from the Las Vegas Strip.  For more detailed info about this bus tour check out the following article: Hover Dam Tour Company: The Best Way to See It

Inside the Hoover Dam

Inside the Hoover Dam

The observation deck of the visitor’s center offers a sweeping observation area view of the lake, the dam, and the River from both inside and out, plus a model of the Tillman bridge. Outside, you can traverse side walks that lead on top of the dam. Doing so was a welcome contrast to the tour below the ground.

Rafting by Hoover Dam

We added to the standard tour with something that took us out on the water itself – a floating tour across the dam waters. We were picked up at our hotel by Black Canyon River Adventures in Las Vegas and shuttled to the departure point. It’s a smooth glide in a motorized pontoon boat, and it allows some wonderful dam views with the dam rising spectacularly above you. We saw an eagle too, a lovely bonus. While the rafting trip lasts nearly three hours, there were plenty of little kids on board, and the quiet water makes for a safe and peaceful trip, packed with information about the dam’s construction and history that we found decidedly more interesting than the tour at the visitor’s center.

Quiet waters to raft – Hoover Dam tour

Quiet waters to raft – Hoover Dam tour

We loved finding out for example that the concrete at the bottom of the dam is “only” seventy five years old and not yet completely dry.

Boulder City and a Train Ride

Back on dry land, we visited Boulder City, and its small but well planned museum and historical association. The museum offers insight into the experiences of the people who built the dam, and the desolation of the area during the period of construction. The interactive displays should grab your children’s attention. And, the museum is located inside the lobby of the charming, old fashioned Boulder Dam Hotel, whose restaurant offers up a truly delicious steel cut oatmeal for breakfast.

One last excursion awaited us, and while it wasn’t directly related to the dam, it might’ve been my kid’s favorite trip: a forty five minute seven mile ride from the Nevada Southern Railway station in town, leading through Railroad Pass in the River Mountains. We rode in refurbished Pullman coach cars from 1911, and the kids wished we could take the train all the way back to Las Vegas.

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

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