All the way back at the turn of the 20th century, engineers had suspected that the Black Canyon and nearby Boulder Canyon had some serious potential to support a dam that could produce hydroelectric power and water for irrigation, and the Colorado River was the ideal water source. It was the perfect storm for such a grand project, and in 1928, this proposal became a reality, and by 1936 the Hoover Dam was completed in its entirety…an impressive two years ahead of schedule.
While that description makes it sound like this was an easy accomplishment, this project remains to be one finest examples of American engineering and should definitely be included on the list of modern marvels. To start, Congress needed to approve the Boulder Canyon design project and bidders, which included six valid companies. The city of Las Vegas had seriously lobbies to be the headquarters for the dam construction and even went to extreme measures by closing many local speakeasies. Instead, the Secretary of the Interior announced that a model city would be constructed in the desert near the proposed dam site.
Before long, the town of Boulder City popped up and the project drew in thousands of ambitious, yet unemployed able bodied men from all of the United States. At the time, Las Vegas had the modest population of 5,000, but soon saw an influx of workers in the 10,000-20,000 range descend upon the area. A job as a worker on the Hoover Dam was a good one, but in the most extreme work conditions imaginable with temperatures soaring well above 100 degrees on an average day.
So, now they had the approval for the project, an immense work force, and a new town to support it. The river was diverted for the construction of the Dam, two cofferdams were constructed to protect the construction site from the Colorado River and construction for this marvel began. After a surprisingly short two years, the concrete work was finished and the dam dedicated. Impressively, a total of 3,250,000 cubic yards of concrete was used in the dam, and an additional 1,100,000 cubic yards were used in the power plant and other nearby structures.
While the official name of this project was “The Boulder Dam,” it was renamed to the Hoover Dam after President Hoover in 1947 after being referred to as “the great engineer whose vision and persistence has done so much to make the dam possible.”
An Innovative Design
When engineers had assumed that the Hoover Dam would someday be open for public tours, they brought in a Los Angeles-based architect to redesign some of the interior and exterior elements. Impressively, he single-handedly streamlined the design, which still remains to a stunning Art Deco masterpiece. He redesigned the Dam face, clock faces, and even color-coded the pipes and machinery, but perhaps most importantly brought in a Denver artist to design the immaculate walls and terrazo flooring on the interior of the Dam. Second to the amazing hydoelecticial operation that’s happening at the Hoover Dam, the Art Deco facets are fascinating and a prime example of the era, especially the “Winged Figures of the Republic,” or bronze angel sculptures. Be sure to rub the angel’s toes for alleged good luck at the casinos!
Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge
While there are more than enough things to see and enjoy at the Hoover Dam, visitors can also marvel at the newly-completed Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. As the world’s tallest concrete arch bridge, it is the first concrete-steel arch composite bridge in the United States and towers 880 feet over the Hoover Dam. As the 1,905 foot-long manmade bridge connects Nevada and Arizona roadways, it’s fitting that it’s named the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, as it honors a hero from each state. With 30,000 cubic yards of concrete and 16 million pounds of steel, the massive engineered wonder is the first concrete-steel arch composite bridge in the United States and its twin-ribbed arch is the widest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. If you aren’t afraid of heights, visitors can even walk across the bridge for some great photo opportunities of the Hoover Dam and Black Canyon below.
Touring the Hoover Dam Today
Today, nearly a million people tour the Hoover Dam annually…so be sure and get this one on your itinerary for southern Nevada before tours fill up!
Includes a 30-minute guided tour and admission to the Visitor Center & Powerplant
- Adults (ages 17-61) $15
- Seniors (62+) $12
- Juniors (ages 4-16) $12
- U.S. Military $12
- U.S. Military in Uniform FREE
- Children FREE
Hoover Dam Tour
Includes a 1-hour guided tour, and admission to the Visitor Center, Powerplant & Dam Passageways
- Adults, Seniors, Juniors and U.S. Military $30
- NO children under the age of 8 permitted.
- NOTE: this tour is NOT accessible for visitors with wheelchairs or crutches.
Tours are NOT RECCOMENDED for anyone who suffers from claustrophobia, or has a pacemaker or defibrillator. Tours are conducted in confined spaces and in a power plant with generators emitting electromagnetic fields.
Hours of Operation
First Powerplant Tour departs at 9:25 a.m.
Last Powerplant Tour departs at 3:55 p.m.
First Dam Tour departs at 9:30 a.m.
Last Dam Tour departs at 3:30 p.m.
Dam Tours [limited to 20 people per tour] may sell-out a couple hours in advance of the last tour
Last Visitor Center ticket is sold at 4:15 p.m.
The Hoover Dam Visitor Center is open every day of the year except for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Open 8:00 a.m., Close 5:15 p.m.
Parking fee $10
From Las Vegas, take US Highway 93 South and continue 30 miles to Boulder City. In Boulder City, take a left at the second stoplight in town [there are only two of them.] Continue on US 93 for about 5 miles [just past the Hoover Dam Lodge] to the turnoff for Nevada State Route 172—The Hoover Dam access road. Take NV SR 172 for about 2 miles until reaching the Hoover Dam, which straddles the Nevada/Arizona state line. ***Please note that visitors who wish to continue travel into Arizona must re-enter Nevada and access Highway 93 to cross the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge; the roadway across Hoover Dam is no longer open to through-traffic.***