Our Dam Interesting Visit to Hoover Dam

trip visit boulder dam hoover dam nevada arizonaI’m mid-way through a long stint in Las Vegas and to both break up the tedium and so my 11yo could celebrate her birthday with me, a birthday that always seems to fall during the Consumer Electronics Show, I flew her and her older sister A- out for a few days. It’s definitely interesting to experience Vegas through younger eyes after coming here for so many years, but that’s the subject of a different post, for sure.

There were two things I really wanted them to experience while in Nevada that would be both age appropriate for the younger one and interesting for the older: Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles:LOVE show, and visiting the Hoover Dam. I’ve seen Beatles:LOVE many times and just find it a splendid show with a great story, superb performers and, of course, terrific music, so it’s been something I wanted to share with them for many years. Again, I’ll write about that in a separate post.

The Hoover Dam

Considered one of the great engineering marvels of the 20th Century, I also wanted to visit Hoover Dam, an easy 45min drive from the Las Vegas Strip, and share it with my children too. It really is one heck of an engineering feat, built out of 4.5 million cubic yards of concrete (which is enough to build a 4 foot wide sidewalk all the way around the Earth).

Surprisingly, due to some smart inventions related to heat dissipation on the non-stop, multi-year concrete pour, the entire Dam project was completed two years earlier than expected and under budget. By contrast the recently opened bypass bridge took two extra years to complete and was way over budget when some initial support towers collapsed and plummeted into the river after a fierce wind storm. Modern times.

Worth knowing is that parking costs money – $10 – and that there are two formal tours, a Power Plant tour and longer, more expensive Dam tour. The former is $15/person and the latter $30/person, and both get you inside the Dam itself, though the second lets you travel through more tunnels and see more of the inside infrastructure. If you’re claustrophobic or anxious about 500-feet of rock and concrete above your head, both tours might be a bit anxiety-provoking. Just FYI.

We got to the ticket area just a few minutes after they’d sold the last tickets of the day for the Dam Tour, which was disappointing, but the Power Plant Tour was quite interesting and still gave us an opportunity to zip down the internal elevators (530 foot drop in 70 seconds) and walk through some tunnels to the “Penstock” pipe, one of the four huge 30-foot-diameter pipes that can transport nearly 90,000 gallons of water each second from Lake Mead to the dam’s hydroelectric generators. That’s a lot of water!

My girls both enjoyed visiting the Dam, though it’s a lot of walking and a lot of steps, so the younger one started to get a bit complainy by the end of the visit. Still, we spent over two hours at the Hoover Dam, well worth the time and cost, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Here are some photos I took, with commentary, starting with a dusk shot from the Arizona side of the water intake towers:

hoover dam, water intake towers, dusk

Notice how low the water is on the Lake Mead side. It’s the lowest that the lake level has been since the Dam was built in the 1930s. It’s at a facility like this you realize how precious a commodity water is for our civilization, and how the Southwest really is a desert without water from elsewhere in the USA: The last time that they had to use the spillways at Hoover Dam was back in the 1980s. Since then the level’s been gradually dropping.

Now, standing atop the Dam, looking straight down about 725 feet:

hoover dam, looking down

Somewhat alarming, you realize if you dropped something it’d hit quite a velocity by the bottom of the fall, and if someone jumped? Well, that’d be a horrible way to leave your mortal body, for sure. Interestingly, the Hoover Dam has featured in a number of films, including the upcoming movie San Andreas, where it breaks and floods Las Vegas and beyond. My cinematic memory of the Dam, however, revolves around the dopey sci-fi thriller The Amazing Colossal Man. Go figure.

By the way, the base of the Dam is over 600-feet thick. It’d take a really, really big earthquake to even crack it, let alone rip the dam open. Silly movie scriptwriters. 🙂

We took the tour and parts of it are rather creepy, deep in the mountain:

exploring the tunnels in boulder hoover dam

Here we’re walking towards the Penstock pipe viewing area, with the tour guide in the blue jacket and my girls close behind.

And here’s what that pipe looks like:

penstock pipe, boulder hoover dam, las vegas, henderson boulder city nevada

Remember, this is one of the pipes that can transport nearly 90,000 gallons of water each second. Very impressive. And there’s a constant vibration on the floor of the viewing area from the water zooming along. Apparently when it’s running at full capacity (which it isn’t because of the low water level in Lake Mead) it can be quite a foot massage…

After viewing the Penstock, we zipped up a short distance in the elevator to the power plant viewing deck, Nevada side:

turbines, power plant, hoover dam

These are some HUGE turbines. the central units themselves each weigh 600 tons. There are eight of them on this side of the Dam and one’s under repair currently. Count closely: there are only seven illuminated tops. The eighth generator is actually being fixed in situ and is the metal tower you see on the lower left. The scale is hard to grasp until you look closely at the people in the photo. Each generator supplies power to 100,000 households, through clean hydroelectric, so this represents enough power generation for 700,000 households.

It also had the feel of a movie set too, and I kept expecting Tony Stark or some mad scientist to show up, clipboard in hand, to talk about his plans for world domination.

Back outside after the tour, here’s a view looking straight down at the Colorado River side:

hoover dam, looking down

If you look very, very closely you’ll see a white cross mid-way between the two sides on the brown concrete: that’s the state line marker, as Hoover Dam straddles the Nevada/Arizona border. And it’s a long, long way down.

Looking up, however, is the new suspension bridge that is used for all through traffic now, and we just happened to hit it at sunset, with rather spectacular results:

suspension bridge at hoover dam, sunset

All in all, an excellent half-day trip from Las Vegas, well worth the drive and expense. Check it out!

One comment on “Our Dam Interesting Visit to Hoover Dam

  1. i have been to vegas a dozen times, and driven through and around hoover damn about half that. never once have i stopped to get a tour or go inside, because i was always too excited to actually get to vegas. my son is 1, and as ive gotten older ive gotten a larger appreciation for sites like this, and cant wait to do a similar tour with him. this looked amazing, great pics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.