I know a visit to a dam might not be the first thing on your mind when you come to an exciting, glamorous city like Las Vegas. But it should be. Hoover Dam is the most famous dam in the world. Located just 30 miles from Las Vegas, it was built in 1935 and still remains one of the greatest public works projects ever created.
Now usually I’m not all that interested in civil engineering and I’ve never had a mind for science. But seeing Hoover Dam was an eye-opening and at times jaw-dropping experience—one that made me take a moment to reflect on the ingenuity and fortitude of mankind.
When I visited, I took the 35-minute guided tour that allowed me to go into the dam. I was fascinated looking at the old photographs and watching the film about the people who built Hoover Dam. It’s astonishing to imagine some of the tasks that were part of this colossal construction effort. I didn’t know tunnels were dug on both sides of Black Canyon to literally move the raging Colorado River so the dam’s foundation could be laid. Not only that, but I was amazed by the manufacturing and cooling processes for the massive amounts of concrete needed to make the blocks that would comprise the dam.
Today, Hoover Dam not only forms a reservoir of water for drinking and irrigation, but it also supplies electricity. As part of the tour, I got to take the elevator down into the dam’s heart to see where and how this electricity is generated. That was a highlight to me—getting to stand on the platform overlooking the turbine hall, which is cavernous. It’s so big you can barely see the other end of the room.
Another highlight that I should mention was a simple one. I enjoyed strolling across the top of the dam. It’s such a great sight from above. While standing there, you can see all the water being held back and the huge intake towers. One funny thing is the change in time zones as you walk from one side of the dam to the other. In fact, there are large clocks on two of the intake towers to let you know that you are on Pacific Standard Time on the Nevada side of the dam and Mountain Standard Time on the Arizona side. The state line actually runs right through the center of the dam.
There are plenty of other great views from points all around Hoover Dam. I also enjoyed the artwork designed to honor its builders. There are two beautiful winged sculptures near a flagpole and a bronze statue of a high scaler near the café. I also spotted the grave of a dog that was a beloved pal to the workers during the dam’s construction. All of these tributes really brought that period in history alive for me.
It’s important to remember the building of Hoover Dam, which started during the Great Depression, revived this area economically—especially the city of Las Vegas. Plus, its construction was a real feat considering the place—a barren, unforgiving desert. So believe me when I say that in this day and age, Hoover Dam is still a marvel and one that you should not miss!
Written by Travel Gal, Renee Libutti
1. This magnificent engineering feat is the work of man. Not to diminish the amazing wonders found in nature, but the construction of Hoover Dam is a gigantic tribute to human ingenuity. A visit here may even inspire a belief in your own ability to accomplish whatever you put your mind to.
2. When you walk onto Hoover Dam, there is a point in the middle through which the state border runs. You can straddle it with a leg on the Nevada side and a leg on the Arizona side. It’s one of the few instances where you can claim to be in two places at once!
3. The Colorado River is a treacherous unpredictable river that flows through seven states—and Hoover Dam reigns in this raging torrent. It controls flooding while storing water for irrigation and for people to drink. Talk about power!
4. Actually, talking about power…Hoover Dam contains 17 hydroelectric generating units, each of which can supply power to 100,000 households. This is great for the environment as no pollutants are released—but you will spy about 2,700 miles of transmission wires running all across the Southwest to deliver electricity to eager users.
5. Hoover Dam is an example of a government project that was actually completed ahead of schedule. Construction of it began in 1931 and the last concrete was poured in 1935, which was two years before its estimated completion date.
6. Hoover Dam makes you appreciate the improvement in today’s work conditions. When the dam was constructed in the ’30s, more than 5,000 men toiled day and night in the blazing heat (temperatures often soared above 120° F). They were also exposed to dangers including carbon monoxide poisoning, dehydration and electrocution from electrical lines.
7. Hoover Dam is an example of Americans pulling together. Would you believe every state in the U.S. contributed some supplies and materials for its construction? That’s something our state governments could learn from today!
8. Hoover Dam is also an example of the grandeur of the past. It was once the world’s tallest dam towering at 726 feet. Sadly, it’s fallen in ranking over the past few decades and now holds the No. 18 spot. Currently, the tallest dam in the world is the Nurek Dam in the Central Asian nation of Tajikistan, which stands at 984 feet—dwarfing Hoover Dam.
9. In some ways, you could say Hoover Dam built Las Vegas. By the early ’20s, the gambling city’s fortunes were on the decline and the population had fallen to only 2,300. When construction of Hoover Dam began in 1931, money and people flowed into the area. Soon the population swelled to 7,500—and visitors started flocking in to check out the progress of the mighty dam!
10. Hoover Dam is spectacular from all viewpoints—up close or from a distance, on top or from the water below. You can’t go wrong no matter which perspective you choose to see it from. In fact, among the most popular Hoover Dam tours are helicopter trips because they allow you to do your sightseeing from multiple angles with ease.
Written By Yvonne Newman
All hail the engineering accomplishment that is Hoover Dam! This giant concrete structure, which provides electricity and drinking water throughout the Southwest, is still a testament to man’s ability to construct colossal projects in the middle of nowhere. Today, Hoover Dam is a National Historic Landmark and it’s still listed as one of America’s Seven Modern Civil Engineering Wonders. Here’s some more trivia that is sure to make you utter, “What a dam wonder!”
By The Numbers
- Hoover Dam is 726.4 feet tall—that’s from the bottom of its foundation up to its crest. The towers on the walls at its crest rise another 40 feet. When Hoover Dam was built, it was the tallest dam in the world and today it remains “the tallest concrete arch dam in the U.S.”
- Hoover Dam is 1,244 feet long across its crest and 660 feet long across its base.
- To build Hoover Dam, more than 5.5 million cubic yards of earth had to be dug up to make way for diversion tunnels for the Colorado River, its foundation, a power plant, cofferdams and spillways.
- Hoover Dam is estimated to weigh more than 6.6 million tons.
- Hoover Dam is made of concrete—more than 3.25 million cubic yards of it! This amount of concrete could pave a standard highway that’s 16 feet wide all the way from San Francisco to New York City.
- Speaking of concrete, more than 5 million barrels of cement mix were required to build Hoover Dam. Interestingly, up until then, the Bureau of Reclamation had only used 5.86 million barrels in its 27-year construction history.
- Hoover Dam was built in blocks. They ranged in length/width from 25 feet square at its downstream face to 60 feet square at its upstream face. The concrete that was poured into each block (i.e., its depth) was limited to five feet —as that took 72 hours to cool.
- In order to cool the concrete (which in normal circumstances would have taken 100 years), engineers dissipated the heat by imbedding 582 miles of steel pipe through the blocks and circulating ice water. They’d built an ammonia refrigeration plant in order to chill the water—one that was so powerful it was capable of producing a 1,000-pound ice block daily.
- Along with concrete, the U.S. government had a big shopping list to fill for Hoover Dam. The materials it needed included 45 million pounds of reinforcement steel, 21.67 million pounds of gates and valves, 88 million pounds of plate steel and outlet pipes, 840 miles of other pipes and fittings, 18 million pounds of structural steel and 5.3 million pounds of miscellaneous metal.
- There were 21,000 men employed in the construction of Hoover Dam. An average of 3,500 men were on site daily. The average monthly payroll was $500,000.
- Before construction could begin on Hoover Dam, a city had to be built to house all the employees and government officials. That’s Boulder City! It is situated eight miles west of the dam site.
- Additional pre-construction work for Hoover Dam included building a 22-foot-wide highway from Boulder City to the dam site and laying 32.7 miles of railroad tracks from the main line of the Union Pacific in Las Vegas to Boulder City and the dam site. A 222-mile-long power transmission line from San Bernardino, Calif., also had to be put in place to supply energy for everything.
- It cost $49 million to build Hoover Dam—that’s a relatively low figure in today’s world!
- Hoover Dam has a power capacity of 1,345 megawatts, which comes from 17 hydroelectric generating units. It supplies electricity to the states of Arizona, California and Nevada.
- Hoover Dam created Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the U.S. with a surface area of 247 square miles. The dam can store up to 9.2 trillion gallons of water from the Colorado River (nearly two years of its flow), if necessary.
- The maximum water pressure at the base of Hoover Dam is 45,000 pounds per square foot.
- Each year, about 20,000 cars and trucks drive across Hoover Dam between Nevada and Arizona.
- Over 100,000 people visit Hoover Dam annually. They either drive (it’s about 45 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip) or take one of many popular sightseeing tours, including helicopter flights.