We had a long stay in Las Vegas and to be honest, I was kind of over it. Sin City isn’t exactly my thing. So, I suggested a day trip to the Hoover Dam. The Hoover Dam is about 50 min. drive from the strip.
It’s a really pretty drive through the desert. Make sure to look for signs for the Lake Mead Overlook. It’s beautiful and definitely worth the stop.
The Hoover Dam is maintained by the Bureau of Reclamation. To be honest, I’d never heard of this government entity before. I’m from the Eastern United States and it only operates in 17 Western states. They are in charge of dams, powerplants, and canals. Interagency passes, like America the Beautiful Pass, are not accepted here.
Another thing I was unaware of is that the dam property sits on the state line between Nevada and Arizona. And they are in different time zones as well. Nevada is on Pacific Standard Time. Arizona is on Mountain Standard Time. To make things just a little more complicated, Arizona doesn’t observe daylight savings time. So, depending on what time of year you visit, you could experience two different times in the same place or two different time zones- but times are the same!
There is ample parking. There’s a parking garage and lot parking. Both cost $10. If you want to save a little money, upper lots 13 and 14 are free but, you’ll have a little hike walking to the bridge and dam.
Security is tight at the Dam. Leave pets, pocketknives, and drones at home. They aren’t allowed on the property. Also, even though marijuana is legal in Nevada and Arizona, it is prohibited at the Hoover Dam. Bags will be physically searched for weapons fireworks, and other contraband and guests must empty their pockets and pass through metal detectors. It feels like going to the airport. Vehicles are subject to inspection as well. Don’t even think about stopping on top of the dam to let out or pick up passengers. (You can rent a wheelchair in the parking garage for 5 bucks.) You may also be asked to pull over and open your hood, trunk, etc. for a security check.
There are 3 tours offered:
- Self-Guided Visitor Center Tour. This is $10. Tickets are available online. The visitor center offers exhibits and access to the observation deck for a 360-degree view of the Dam, Colorado River, Lake Mead, and the Bypass Bridge.
- Guided Power Plant Tour $15. Tickets are available online. This includes the Visitor Center. Also, you can walk through the original construction tunnels, see the huge generators, and have access to another viewing platform.
- Guided Dam Tour is $30. This ticket is NOT available online. It can only be purchased in person. It includes the Visitor Center, the Guided Power Plant Tour, and an elevator ride to the top of the Dam. You’ll also tour the inspection tunnels at the center of the dam and view the Colorado River from an inspection ventilation shaft.
The tour guides here are topnotch. They are extremely knowledgeable and very professional. They are extremely efficient and have programs scheduled down to the minute to make sure everyone gets time to ask questions and take pictures.
So, why would anyone want to tour a dam? Well, it’s fascinating. Really! It’s an engineering masterpiece.
I’m not usually interested in bridges, dams, and other engineering-type things. But, the Hoover Dam is a modern marvel that is massive. It was made during the time Model T’s were coming off assembly lines. There are 3 and 1/4 million cubic yards of concrete. That’s enough concrete to build a straight road across the entire U.S. The concrete inside the dam is still drying! It will take 125 years to completely cure. An entire river had to be protected and diverted during the construction. It’s just so dam impressive.
The dam is only part of the story. There’s a big issue with Lake Mead right now. There’s been a 23 year “mega-drought.” The lake hasn’t been this low since the 30’s when it was initially being filled. Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in America. It is a vital part of a system that provides water to 40 million people in several states and northern Mexico. Lake Mead supports 25 million people alone.
In the picture above, you can see the “bathtub ring” that’s appeared showing where the water level used to be…and where it is now.
Shockingly, the fall of water levels has unearthed some previously sunken boats and even some human remains.
Politicians and lawyers are in debates and negotiations over who will suffer water cutbacks more. Drought Contingency Plans are in affect and California agriculture is at stake. States are proposing competing plans on how to handle this issue. In the meantime, we can’t forget that the water produces power. California, Arizona, and Nevada all receive energy from the Hoover Dam. Simply put; less water means less power. The Southwest is in crisis mode.
At the end of the day, there’s a lot to learn from a trip to the Hoover Dam. There’s the history there of Americans rising to the occasion during the Great Depression to build something the world had never seen before. We put thousands of people back to work, made huge strides in the infrastructure of the American Southwest, and did it all in 5 years. Now, we’ve got another hurdle on the horizon. Between climate change and overconsumption, we’re running out of water. Wildlife, agriculture, and millions of people rely on this water source for life. Can we rise to the challenge once again?