Historic Treasures: Hoover Dam


Story and Photos By Abby Boyd

Hoover Dam is a concrete arch-gravity dam in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, on the border between the U.S. states of Nevada and Arizona. It was constructed between 1931 and 1936 during the Great Depression and was dedicated on September 30, 1935, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Its construction was the result of a massive effort involving thousands of workers, and cost over one hundred lives. Originally known as Boulder Dam from 1933, it was officially renamed Hoover Dam, for President Herbert Hoover, by a joint resolution of Congress in 1947.

The winning bid to build the dam was submitted by a consortium called Six Companies, Inc., which began construction on the dam in early 1931. Such a large concrete structure had never been built before, and some of the techniques were unproven. The torrid summer weather and lack of facilities near the site also presented difficulties. Nevertheless, Six Companies turned the dam over to the federal government on March 1, 1936, more than two years ahead of schedule.

Hoover Dam impounds Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States by volume (when it is full). The dam is located near Boulder City, Nevada, a municipality originally constructed for workers on the construction project. The dam’s generators provide power for public and private utilities in Nevada, Arizona, and California. Hoover Dam is a major tourist attraction; nearly a million people tour the dam each year. The heavily traveled U.S. Route 93 (US 93) ran along the dam’s crest until October 2010, when the Hoover Dam Bypass opened.

Approximately 34 miles outside of the city of Las Vegas, Nevada in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, stands one of the most magnificent pieces of science, architecture, and engineering: The Hoover Dam. On a recent trip to Las Vegas, Postcards decided to venture out to experience the dam firsthand and share with readers some of its history and tips for visiting.

From Las Vegas, the Hoover Dam is approximately a 45 minute (give or take for traffic) drive of straight highway. Once you get close to the Canyon, you will begin to see signs for the Hoover Dam. If you follow the signs, you’re golden. Upon arrival at the gate, your vehicle is briefly checked and then you are able to proceed to the dam. Yes, you can still drive and walk across the dam! On the Nevada side of the dam as you go through the gate, you will begin to see parking on your left that does cost from 10-15 dollars (this is close parking). However, if you continue across the dam to the Arizona side and up the hill past the paid parking on that side, you will find several free parking lots. We chose the free lots farther away, as the views for pictures are beautiful from up the hill. We do recommend good shoes to walk in, as the dam is a little bit further this way.

A great photo-op spot is on the top of the dam at the state line dividing Nevada and Arizona. Not only can you straddle the line and have your picture taken in two states, you will also be in two time zones!

It is entirely free to drive across the dam, and while the free parking is a bit of a hike (free close handicapped parking is available), guests are welcome to spend as little or as much time as they would like walking around, reading signs, listening to audio loops of information, and taking pictures.

Some things to note when planning a trip to the Hoover Dam: The Hoover Dam is located in a desert climate, meaning it is EXTREMELY hot in the summer. We would highly recommend wearing light clothing, wear a hat/shades, use sunscreen, and bring plenty of water. The earlier you go the better, as you can avoid the hottest part of the day and grab tour tickets early. Inside the visitor center and tour building, food and drinks other than water are not allowed.

For a more in-depth experience, visitors can invest a little money for a guided tour with additional access to the inner workings of the dam. Dam Tour tickets are only sold onsite on a first-come first serve basis starting at 9am. The basic tour is $15 and the 1 hour, more exclusive tour is $30. We chose the basic tour and thoroughly enjoyed the experience of traveling more than 700 feet below ground and learning about the interworking of the dam and generators.

For the outdoor adventurer, there are many options around the Hoover Dam, including helicopter tours overlooking the dam. Lake Mead National Recreation Area is next to the Hoover Dam and offers a variety of activities such as boating, water skiing, kayaking, swimming, fishing, horseback riding, scenic views of the Black Canyon and Hoover Dam, lodging, camping grounds, as well as some of the best hiking trails, including the Historic Railroad Trail (that takes you through the only remaining section of the Hoover Dam Railroad system that is not highly disturbed or under water). If you are in the area, be sure to check out this marvel of our nation’s history.

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