Tour Experience: Exploring the Wonders of the Hoover Dam

The Hoover Dam is a magnificent structure built on the Colorado River, bordering the states of Nevada and Arizona in the United States. It stands as a testament to human ingenuity and determination, harnessing the immense power of nature to generate electricity and provide water to millions of people. As you approach the dam, its size commands attention, leaving visitors in awe of its engineering marvels. The Hoover Dam is not just a destination for adventure seekers but also a place where history and innovation converge.

History and Construction of the Hoover Dam

In the early 20th century, the idea of constructing a dam on the Colorado River was born out of the pressing need for water and electricity in the rapidly growing Southwest region of the United States. The construction of the Hoover Dam started in 1931 and continued for five years, employing thousands of workers who faced incredible challenges in carving out the foundation of this colossal structure.

The Hoover Dam stands as a testament to the incredible engineering achievements of its time. It is an arch-gravity dam, meaning its weight is transferred to the canyon walls through its curved shape. This design allows the dam to withstand the immense pressure from the water held behind it. The dam’s height reaches 726 feet, making it one of the tallest concrete dams in the world. The power generated by the dam’s hydroelectric turbines is enough to supply electricity to millions of homes and businesses across several states. Moreover, the dam’s reservoir, Lake Mead, is the largest reservoir in the United States, providing water for irrigation, recreation, and drinking.


First Stop: Mike O’Callaghan Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge Plaza

Most families have a rotation of movies they watch as background noise. Inadvertently, the entire family recites the lines to one another in a Pavlovian response when gathered together. In my family, one of these movies is National Lampoon Vegas Vacation. The movie’s premise follows the Griswold family’s adventure to Las Vegas. One of the iconic stops within the film is a trip to the Hoover Dam. As I headed towards the entrance, I felt a surge of excitement. I couldn’t wait to crack some classic jokes about the Dam Tour and capture all the Dam pictures I wanted.

Even though I was bursting with excitement, I didn’t head straight to the Visitor Center. Instead, I made a quick detour to the Mike O’Callaghan Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge Plaza, just before the vehicle checkpoint and entrance to the Hoover Dam. This beautiful arched bridge stretches across the Colorado River, connecting the states of Arizona and Nevada. The walkway leading up to the bridge is a zig-zagged path that slowly guides visitors toward the bridge. Once there, you can capture a picture-perfect postcard shot of the Hoover Dam. Even as I gazed upon the Dam, it was difficult to fathom that this massive wall was capable of holding back the mighty Colorado River, controlling it to a mere trickle on the other side.

When I reached the vehicle checkpoint, a security officer asked me if any drones or guns were present in my car. I glanced back at the explosion of clothes in the backseat, left after checking out of my Airbnb, and responded with a perplexed “no.” After that, I continued to the parking garage and walked to the Visitors Center. 

Walkway to the Mike O'Callaghan Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge Plaza.
View of the Hoover Dam from Mike O'Callaghan Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge Plaza.

Exploring the Hoover Dam: Visitor Center and Tours

When visiting the Hoover Dam, a great place to start is the Visitor Center, where admission is $10 and self-guided. Here visitors can learn about the dam’s history, construction, and its role in powering the region. There are also interactive exhibits, historical photographs, and informative displays that offer a glimpse into the challenges faced by the builders of the dam. There are two guided tours that allow visitors to explore the dam’s inner workings and witness its immense power firsthand. 

  • Guided Power-Plant Tour $15 – Visitors walk through original construction tunnels, visit the viewing platform overlooking a 30-foot diameter penstock, and see eight commercial generators in the Nevada Powerhouse. The tour includes access to the Visitors Center.
  • Guided Dam Tour $30 – In addition to the areas covered in the Guided Power-Plant Tour and access to the Visitor Center, visitors tour the historic tunnels, ride the original elevator to the top of Hoover Dam, walk through the inspection tunnels at the center of Hoover Dam, and see the Colorado River through the inspection ventilation shaft. 
Inside the Visitor Center at the Hoover Dam.

Tour Experience 

I wanted to see every available area of the Hoover Dam, so I opted for the Guided Dam Tour during my visit. Both tour groups start by watching an introductory movie on the construction of the Hoover Dam’s monumental undertaking, requiring innovative engineering techniques and immense manpower. The short film features black and white clips that show exploding rocks from the canyon walls and cranes stacking layers of concrete to create the structure we see today. 

Afterward, our tour guild greeted us at the elevator and reminded us we could take all the dam pictures we wanted during the tour. We uncomfortably squeezed fifteen people into the elevator and plunged into the bowels of the dam, where we stood over a raddling platform of a 30-foot intake pipe. Even though we couldn’t see the water rushing through the dam, the muffled roar of the water within the pipe felt as though I was standing above an invisible river.

30-foot diameter penstock pipe.
The powerplant room inside the Nevada side of the Hoover Dam.

Next, we piled into the elevator again and headed towards the powerplant room. This room houses all eight original generators located on the Nevada side of the Hoover Dam, which generates power for the surrounding states. The sheer magnitude and size of the room cannot be fully captured in pictures. A massive crane is situated overhead to facilitate maintenance on any of the turbines. The powerplant rooms at Hoover Dam span an impressive length of 650 feet, equivalent to two football fields. This engineering marvel boasts a stunning art-deco design that reflects the era in which it was built. The design features intricate hand-crafted mosaics and tiled hallways that lead to and from the inspection tunnels, adding to the beauty of the overall structure.

One of the tour’s highlights was the opportunity to stroll through the inspection tunnels. These tunnels play a crucial role in enabling engineers to keep tabs on the structural integrity of the concrete and identify any indications of leakage within the walls. During this experience, I realized the dam wall’s true thickness. In a crouched, almost animal like-walk, each person scurried through the tunnels noting the engineering markings on the walls and the seismograph inconspicuously sitting in the corner. For a brief moment, we took turns at the end of a ventilation tunnel. These square vents can be seen about halfway up on the outside wall of the Hoover Dam. Looking through the slats in the vent, I understood how steep the wall was and thought there was no way Clark Griswold climbed the face of this dam after swinging from the powerlines. 

A view from above the Hoover Dam over looking the massive wall.

The Enduring Legacy of the Hoover Dam

The Hoover Dam stands as an enduring symbol of human ingenuity, triumphing over the forces of nature. Its construction not only provided much-needed water and electricity to the Southwest region but also created thousands of jobs during the Great Depression. Today, the Hoover Dam continues to play a vital role in the region’s sustainable development, powering homes and businesses while also providing a recreational space for visitors to enjoy. So, if you’re planning a trip to the Southwest, make sure to include the Hoover Dam on your itinerary and witness the power of nature harnessed by human hands.

Ventilation tunnel at the Hoover Dam
Tunnels inside the Hoover Dam.

The information in this article was accurate when published but can change without notice. Please confirm rates and details when planning your trip by following the links in this article. If you find out-of-date or inaccurate information, I’d love to hear about it to update the article. Use the comments section below. Thanks!

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