Hoover Dam is one of the greatest engineering marvels of modern history. It was built during the Great Depression between 1931 and 1935 to harness the waters of the Colorado River. The dam is just a short drive from Las Vegas and within the boundaries of Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
Admission and Tours
To visit Hoover Dam, you can take an organized tour from Las Vegas or drive there yourself. A parking garage is located at the entrance and the fee is US$10. It opens at 8am while the visitor center is open an hour later.
There are two different types of tours. The Dam Tour is an in-depth one hour tour that explores lesser known parts of the dam. Tickets cost US$30 (as of November 2017) and are sold on a first come, first served basis. The Powerplant Tour lasts 30 minutes and only visits the powerplant. tickets can be bought online up to 90 days in advance or at the visitor center. An adult ticket is US$15 (as of November 2017). Both tours include admission to the visitor center.
Some important notes: Dam and powerplant tours may be cancelled without notice. It’s also best to get there at 9am if you want to make sure you get the dam tour. On my first visit, we arrived around 11 and the next dam tour was at 2pm. On my second visit, we arrived at 9am and the lines were empty, but unfortunately, the dam was unexpectedly closed to tours.
If you only want to see the visitor center, it costs US$10 (as of November 2017). It’s open daily except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day from 9am to 5pm.
On both the dam and powerplant tours, you watch a short film about the history and construction of Hoover Dam. Then visitors are ushered into the correct tour group and the tour begins. On my first visit, we did the powerplant tour and were taken down the elevator into the powerplant area. We were able to learn about how the dam works and generates power as well as walk through some dark tunnels.
On Top of Hoover Dam
After that, we were taken back up the elevator for a walk across the dam. We were able to get some nice looks at both Hoover Dam and the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. If you have extra time, you can walk across the bridge for excellent views of the dam (we didn’t do that). There’s a parking lot on Hoover Dam Access Road.
The guide then showed us the commemorative plaques on the two elevator towers and explained the significance of the relief panels above the tower on the Nevada side of the dam. There’s a series of relief panels above the Arizona tower as well. They were created by sculptor Oskar Hansen.
We walked across the dam into Arizona. The guide pointed out a plaque that indicates the border between Arizona and Nevada.
From there, we were given a look at an arm of Lake Mead, the largest artificial lake in the United States. The guide also told us about the four intake towers that are connected to the dam by a bridge.
Next, we visited the Winged Figures of the Republic monument. It was dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 and created by Oskar Hansen. It features a 142 foot flag pole flanked by two 30 foot high winged figures. They rest on a black diorite base.
On the floor is a celestial map along with the seals of the states that benefit from the dam. A compass with signs of the zodiac is nearby.
A memorial to the workers who died during construction of Hoover Dam, also designed by Hansen, is next to the Winged Figures of the Republic.
Finally, the tour finished and we were given a chance to go through the visitor center. There’s an observation deck at the top and an interesting museum on the ground floor. The museum explains the history and technical aspects of the dam’s construction and includes a few interactive displays.
Walking back to the parking garage, we came across the tomb for a dog that was the Hoover Dam’s mascot. The dog was found by construction workers as a puppy and followed them to and from the worksite every day. He was killed on February 21, 1941, after getting rolled over by a truck that he was sleeping under, and workers created a gravesite for him the same day.