Guide to the Hoover Dam
The combined efforts of six huge construction companies and over 21,000 workers created the most ambitious engineering project of the 1930's. It guards the Black Canyon, nestled in the border of Arizona and Nevada, controlling the mighty and unpredictable Colorado River. The Hoover Dam is currently one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Southwest, a hydroelectric plant providing power to millions of residents in three states, a source of drinkable water in the desert, and the creator of Lake Mead. Discover how to get there, what to see, and a little of the history behind this fascinating structure here.
LATEST NEWS: In November 2010, the Hoover Dam Bypass will be opened for traffic! The traffic congestion along the top of the Hoover Dam has become a major problem for Arizona, Nevada, and Utah, and continual traffic brings the threat of water contamination, power interruption, or millions of dollars in damages in the event of an accident. The bypass is a 1,060 foot long twin-rib bridge crossing high above the Black Canyon and the dam. It's four lanes and lack of dangerous switchbacks will solve a lot of problems for motorists, and the Bureau of Reclamation.
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Most of the Hoover Dam's 1 million sightseers per year are from Las Vegas, the only nearby big city at 30 miles away. Driving directions to the Hoover Dam from Las Vegas are simple:
From the Strip:
- Drive East on Sahara, Flamingo, Tropicana, or the 215. Get on the 95 South.
- Upon entering Boulder City, watch for signs for highway 93 and the Hoover Dam. It will be a left turn.
- Take highway 93 all the way to the Hoover Dam
- Fremont Street is nestled in the elbow of the 15 and the 95's meeting point. Take Las Vegas Boulevard North to the 95 South.
- Take the 95 through Las Vegas, Henderson. At the entrance to Boulder City, take a left onto the 93, towards Hoover Dam.
- Take highway 93 all the way to the Hoover Dam
The Bureau of Reclamations, which operates the dam, does not allow access to all vehicles. Since 9/11, security stations have been established on the approaches from both Nevada and Arizona. The following types of automobiles will be told to turn back.
- Commercial semi-trucks (12-wheelers).
- Buses WITH luggage (buses with only passengers will be allowed).
- Enclosed box trucks longer than 40 feet.
- Double-stacked trailers.
- Any vehicle with cargo that cannot be inspected
- Any vehicle carrying hazardous, combustible or flammable materials, munitions, explosives, fertilizer over 40lbs, fuel in containers over 25 gallons, or any other material percieved to be a security risk.
Three small to mid-sized lots on the Arizona side of the dam provide free parking, and an undergroung garage provides closer parking for $7.
- Hours: 8am-5:45pm.
Tour companies based in Las Vegas run buses, helicopters, and more to the dam seven days a week, 365 days a year. Prices vary.
Rebel Adventure Tours provides transports guests to the base of the Hoover Dam, the starting point for an 11-mile rafting adventure down the Colorado River. It's the Black Canyon River Rafting Hummer Adventure Tour.
|Triple J Tours provides charter bus services from Las Vegas to anywhere in the Southwest. School, church, or corporate groups will enjoy the full range of services only available from a private bus.||
For a full day, try the Grand Canyon West Rim company's Grand Canyon West Rim Bus Tour with a Hoover Dam Photo Stop.
The Visitor Center is open every day of the year except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Admission is $8. Children 3 and under are free.
Tours of the Dam:
Powerplant Tour - Includes admission to the Visitor Center and Powerplant. Click here to purchase Powerplant Tour tickets online.
- Adults (ages 17-61): $11
- Seniors (62+): $9
- Juniors (4-16): $9
- U.S. Military: $9
- U.S. Military (In uniform): Free
- Children (0-3): Free
Hoover Dam Tour - Includes admission to the Visitor Center, Powerplant, and Dam Passageways. Hoover Dam Tour tickets cannot be purchased online, and are available on a first-come-first-serve basis from the visitor center.
- Everyone: $30
- No children under 8 are permitted.
- Visitors with wheelchairs or crutches will be unable to access this tour.
Food is available from the Hoover Dam Snacketeria. The dam is the most crowded during the Summer between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Tours are busiest between 10:30am and 3pm.
Before the dam, citizens of the American Southwest endured life-threatening shortages of water and power. Farmers and ranchers, heavily dependant on the Colorado River, were devestated time and again by flooding and unpredictable activity. The biggest dam in the world was concieved to alleviate the grim effects of the Great Depression on the already-scrambling denizens of the area for hundreds of miles around. The first ground was broken in 1931.
A Tent City
The five years of building occurred amidst some of the most compelling human drama of the Great Depression. Workers flocked to Las Vegas in hopes of a job. Many camped directly on the floor of the Black Canyon, thinking that proximity would increase their chances of employment. A tent city emerged overnight, men, women and children surviving together in a summer that peaked at 120 degrees. The project was began a full six months ahead of schedule, simply to accommodate the needs of this population.
In May, 1931, tunneling began downriver from the site. Workers slowly bore two passageways 56 feet in diameter through the solid rock. Shortly after, work began on two more tunnels on the Arizona side. These were the passageways that the Colorado River would charge through during the years of the dam's construction.
At this early stage, roads did not lead to Black Canyon, and no infrastructure was in place to support human life. Supplies and some men were initially carried in by boat, in a roundabout passage. Eventually, five hundred pneumatic drills, hoses, and compressors would be delivered.
In the face of humongous challenges and rough conditions, the work crews rallied and charged. New solutions were invented overnight, like the massive "drilling jumbos" that were constructed on the back of several ten-ton trucks. These gigantic frameworks of catwalks and decks could hold up to 30 men with pneumatic drills. The truck would be backed down the entire length of the tunnel, in some cases almost a mile long, and bring the drilling crew right up to the face of the rock. Half of the neccessary dynamite holes could be drilled simultaneously this way, the the truck would bring the men to the other side for the other half. Intramural competitions sprang up among the different work crews, and thanks to such creativity and excitement, the tunnels were completed in record time. After the final stretch was lined with concrete, carefully placed charges in the upstream walls of the canyon were detonated and the Colorado river, the same river that carved the Grand Canyon, was diverted by man. The combined length of the tunnels reached 16,000 feet... more than three miles. The river flowed unchecked through these unnatural passageways for almost two years.
With the riverbed free of water, crews began to dig. Dumptruck after dumptruck carried silt and mud away from the site, only to find more underneath. Eventually, 40 feet below where they'd started, bedrock was seen. This was the real floor of the canyon.
Simultaneously, the daredevils of the construction team, called high scalers, smoothed the canyon walls. Carrying 40-pound pneumatic drills, these fearless men hung on ropes dropped from the top of the ridge and gradually shaved off projecting rocks and incongruities. At this time during building, the most common cause of death was falling object. Simple rocks, gear, and tools became deadly projectiles when dropped from 700 feet.
A mixing plant built six miles away, near a large natural supply of aggregate, was constructed early on. In June, 1933, concrete pouring commenced. The dam rose, foot by foot, and eventually a new mixing plant was constructed right on the canyon rim. The new plant was capable of producing 24 cubic yards of concrete every three and a half minutes.
Columns were poured one at a time, then allowed to cool. Engineers had discovered that if the dam had been built in one long, consistent pour of concrete, the materials would not finish cooling or curing for over 100 years. One block at a time, the dam climbed for hundreds of feet, until 1935 when the last column was added. 3.5 million cubic yards of concrete had been used.
When constructed, the Hoover Dam was the biggest in the world. It's not anymore; that title goes to China's Three Gorges Dam. It was also the most powerful hydroelectic plant for many years after it was built. Now, the Three Gorges Dam has claimed that recognition as well. And the tallest dam in the world is the Nurek, in Tajikistan. The Hoover Dam today is simply the most visited, inspiring, storied, and loved dam in America.
Location: On Highway 93, spanning Black Canyon between Arizona and Nevada
Open: The highway is always open, the visitors center is open 9am-6pm
Mass: 3.5 million cubic yards of concrete.
Visitors: over 1 million per year, 13,000 per day.
Awards: One of the America's Seven Modern Civil Engineering Wonders.
Distance from Las Vegas: 30 miles (48 km) southeast of Las Vegas
Named for: Herbert Hoover, who played a prominent role in its construction.
Operated by: The Bureau of Reclamation of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Designation: National Historic Landmark in 1985.
Total construction cost: estimated as $49 million.
Height: 726.4 ft
Length: 1244 ft
Total capacity: More than 6,600,000 tons.
Creates: Lake Mead reservoir.