If you are looking to do more than gamble when you come to Las Vegas, NV, you have many excellent options. Hiking in Red Rock Canyon is minutes away from Sin City. On the Colorado River, Valley of Fire State Park is a mere 90 minutes northeast on I-15. Zion National Park is within three hours. And Hoover Dam is less than an hour from the Brittany Spears show at Planet Hollywood.
Opting for the Hoover Dam over Brittany in the first week of March, we drive southeast through Henderson to Boulder City just five miles from the dam. Snaking down to the Colorado River, we pay $10 to park in the new garage on the Nevada side.
Boulder City was initially built in the 1930s to house the workers that built the dam. Once known as Boulder Dam, it was later named for the 31st president of the United States, Herbert Hoover. Built to control floods, provide irrigation water, and produce hydroelectric power, the dam also had its punsters.
By the way, what did the fish say when it swam into a wall? Dam!
There’s a choice of two tours – the Turbine tour for $15 or the full Dam Tour for $30. Go big or go home. We are not coming back so we go large. The Dam Tour goes for an hour and also gives the payees access to the Old Exhibit Hall, the Hoover Dam movie, and the Visitor Center.
We go through a TSA screening, taking everything out of our pockets, removing our jackets, and walking through the screening booth. Today, they confiscate our apples and granola bars claiming they contribute to a rodent problem.
Arriving at 1015A, we luck out and slip onto the 1030A tour. A week before, our daughter Molly and hubby Tip arrived about the same time and waited two hours. If you must wait, you can watch the 15 minute film, check out the Visitor Center Exhibits, and walk on top of the dam to the Arizona side.
Clustering our group of twenty in front of the elevator, our tour guides asks us, Are you ready for the dam tour? Smiling, she then asks if we have any questions. I ask, Is anyone is buried in the dam? She says, That is the #1 question we get. No one is buried within the dam. Concrete was poured three inches at a time when the dam was built.
She says, The #2 question is – is Jimmy Hoffa buried here? Jimmy Hoffa disappeared 30 years after the dam was built. I then ask, How many people work here? She wouldn’t tell me. It’s classified. I am a chatty son of a gun.
The dam elevator takes us 700 feet down to the turbine room where 17 turbines crank away creating the electricity generated by the dam. Looking out one of the four air vents in the dam, we get the full view of the Colorado River. Water comes from Lake Mead, passes through one of the four huge intake towers, circulates through the ginormous interior pipes, and then passes through the generators. This process creates electricity for a good part of Arizona, southern Nevada, and a mammoth amount for southern California.
The mountain West is in the midst of its worst 10 to 15 year cycle of drought in the last 80 years since the dam was built. There have been two times when Lake Mead was so full (1941 and 1983) that water was released over the two side spillways to avoid water cascading over the road atop the Hoover Dam.
Milling around at the top of the dam are families, couples, and three black jacketed bikers. Hell’s Angels love their American history, too. To avoid the weekend crowds, we have come on this Monday. When I ask, are the weekends busier? She says, In fact, the weekends are not the busiest days; Monday is! Arriving as we do just before the six weeks of Spring Breaks across the country, we find crowds, without it being crowded here in Black Canyon.
For all the times Hannah and I would travel to Las Vegas from our one-time home in Tempe, Arizona, we would snake down the two lane road to cross the Hoover Dam and then inch back up the Nevada side. It was a nightmare of traffic jams as people crossed back and forth across the top of the dam from sidewalk to sidewalk. After 9/11, there were concerns about the safety of Hoover Dam. Hence, the Route 93 Bypass was conceived and built.
In 2010, soaring high above the dam, the new O’Callaghan-Tillman Bridge opened with six lanes of traffic. The architects have made this bridge a mini-tourist destination. From a parking area, we climb steps (there are ramps for wheel chair access) to the wide sidewalk on the bridge itself. Today at least fifty others join us for the view from the bridge. Wrapped in coats on a windy day, we travel across the bridge some 260 feet above the dam itself.
The story of the bridge’s construction is artfully laid out on metal panels along the bridge walkway. Named for one time Nevada governor Mike O’Callaghan and American hero and fellow Arizona State grad Pat Tillman (Dan – BA in 1970 and Hannah – MA in 1981), the bridge is worth the visit for its views of the dam and lake below.
After, we chill at our Comfort Inn in Henderson, Nevada (a suburb of Las Vegas) where we learn that from Monday through Thursday there is a happy hour with free beer, wine, and popcorn.
Bingo. Today is Monday!
Drought’s Extremes Tallied at Record-Low Lake Mead from the New York Times, May 5, 2015. The article below tells of the effects of the 15 year drought in the Southwest. Lake Mead is at 38% capacity. Click on the link below for the full text of the article.