By Debi Lander
While flying to Las Vegas, I looked out the window and got a surprise — an aerial view of the Hoover Dam. The impressive sight of this American engineering feat filled me with wonder.
After picking up a rental car, I drove a little over 30 minutes to my hotel. The Hoover Dam Hotel & Casino, as you might expect, is not only ideally located for dam visits, but offers scenic views of Lake Mead. Inside, numerous restaurants and small casinos fulfill your needs.
I understood the Hoover Dam Visitor Center was closed (due to Covid), as were tours inside the tunnels, but that didn’t stop me. Exploring the U.S. National Monument doesn’t require more than a half-day (even including a tunnel tour) and much less if you are in a hurry.
I walked down the promenade toward the dam, reading the signage and photographing as I went along. Hoover Dam was built between 1930 –1936 in a wasteland, a forbidding dry, rocky desert. The goal was to help control flooding of the Colorado River and to divert water where needed. Most importantly, the dam would provide massive amounts of hydroelectric power.
Ninety-six workers lost their lives in accidents, but no one was buried alive while pouring the 6.6 million yards of needed concrete. Imagine working in sweltering heat to bore into carbon monoxide-choked tunnels or dangling from heights of 800 feet to clear canyon walls. Over the years, some 21,000 workers contributed to the overall construction.
The sight of the complex staggered my mind. Everything about the place feels supersized. I glanced up at tilted transmission towers supported by massive braces and down at the immense, rounded curtain of concrete. The dam measures 726 feet tall and 1,244 feet long, almost a quarter of a mile. According to some online research, “At its base, the Dam is a whopping 660 feet thick, about two football fields stretched end-to-end. At its top, Hoover Dam is nearly as wide as a four-lane highway.”
All visitors notice the 30-foot high Art Deco statues, known as the “Winged Figures of the Republic.” The pair resemble seated humans with sharp, angular features and wings that soar straight toward the sky. Sculptor Oskar Hansen created them with more than four tons of statuary bronze. The two are now weathered with a green patina, except where visitors follow the tradition of rubbing their feet for good luck.
A celestial chart embedded in the terrazzo floor surrounds the monument’s ceremonial area. The base marks the day the Hoover Dam was dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt, September 30, 1935.
The river backed up by the dam creates Lake Mead, one of the largest artificial lakes in the world. As the water reaches the blockade, it falls 500 feet through pipes to a hydroelectric power plant at the base. The water turns 17 hydraulic turbines, which then rotate a series of electric generators. The engineering miracle produces a power capacity of 2,080 megawatts. Nearly half of the generated electric power goes to Los Angeles and Southern California; the rest goes to Nevada and Arizona.
A federal highway traverses the dam’s crest, although I didn’t approach from that direction. Over the years, as traffic increased, backups occurred, and Sept. 11, 2001, added severe security restrictions. Therefore, a new concrete arch bridge with a 1,060-foot span — the longest in North America for that type of bridge — opened in 2005. I climbed the stairs to ascend Memorial Bridge for a panoramic view, stopping to read plaques while I caught my breath.
Our national parks present spectacular scenery, but some of our man-made wonders also deserve a look.
Visit www.bylandersea.com to read more of local travel writer Debi Lander’s stories and travel tips.
Photos courtesy Debi Lander
Aerial view of the Hoover Dam.