Constructed of more than 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete over a period of five years, from 1933 to 1938, by thousands of employees, the Hoover Dam is a wonder to behold. The dam was constructed by way of interlocking concrete blocks stacked on top of each other. Contrary to anything you might have read, although there were some fatalities during construction, there are no bodies buried in the concrete of the Hoover Dam.
The purpose of the dam is to contain water from the Colorado River which runs down from the snowcapped mountains of Colorado and joins water from several rivers below ultimately creating the Colorado River Basin. Collecting in Lake Mead, the water moves through the two power plants supplying electric power to the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, before ultimately draining below the dam into the Colorado River.
The Hoover Dam is actually located in two states, Nevada and Arizona, and the dividing line is right down the center of Lake Mead and the Colorado River. The entrance to the public tour is located in Nevada.
After a short movie about the history and construction, the one-hour tour takes visitors via elevator down into the actual structure. We navigated winding sections of one of the original inspection tunnels where leaks were clearly marked with the date and location on the walls as they were discovered. Eventually we ended up at a platform overlooking a 30-foot diameter penstock in the Nevada wing of the powerplant where you could actually feel the vibration of the water moving through the pipe.
Another elevator ride and further down into another tunnel, we were able to look out a ventilation shaft opening to the Colorado River below. Along the tour, you see the narrow, steep stairs which start at the bottom of the dam and ascend all the way to the top. These stairs would be used in case of an emergency if workers need to go up or down to other levels.
Most of the guides associated with the tour had been with the Bureau of Reclamation, the government entity which oversees the Hoover Dam, for several years and were very knowledgeable. They answered questions from the group and shared their personal experiences at the facility.
After returning to the surface at the end of the tour, you are invited to walk along the access road to see Lake Mead up close. The stunning appearance of the intake towers high and dry was a reality check of the problems we had seen on the news about the low water level in the area.
A visit to the gift shop for the obligatory souvenir t-shirt, magnet or cap, and a refreshing snack was a welcome rest period, as it was extremely warm the day we visited.
News articles and photographs do not compare to seeing this wondrous creation up close and personal. It’s something I will never forget. For more information about tours of the Hoover Dam, see the website https://www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam.