Travel Post: The Hoover Dam, a day trip from Vegas

If Las Vegas is America’s playground, then the Hoover Dam, less than an hour away from Vegas, is America’s most captivating post-recess lesson in science and technology, not to mention History! After an exciting trip to Las Vegas, my travel partner and I headed out of town to tour one of the most impressive engineering marvels of the 20th century.

Hoover Dam is remarkably close to Las Vegas, with its proximity making it an attractive day-trip option for anyone needing a break from the action and intrigue of the nearby city. Forty-five minutes after leaving the Las Vegas Strip, we arrived in breathtaking Boulder Canyon. The contrast from the bright neon civilization of Vegas to the stark desert beauty of Boulder City and the canyon was refreshing, and a new high way diverting traffic from across the dam itself made car traveling simple, quick, and smooth.

Although you can’t see the dam from the arched highway (pictured above), a trip down to the facility and visitor’s center is worth the time and effort. We arrived in plenty of time to do a power-plant and dam tour, both of which were interactive, informative, and engaging.

With a new visitor’s center erected in 1995, Hoover Dam’s capacity for tourism has expanded into making visitors comfortable and keeping their attention. With options in addition to the tours from providing life-size models and detailed exhibits of the electricity generators powered by the dam’s water inflow, to short video presentations about the Colorado River’s geographical and damming history, you won’t be bored.

The tours themselves were informative and hands-on, with explanations of the dam’s purpose, construction techniques, and continuing maintenance.

We got to explore some of the bigger maintenance tunnels  and learned some cool facts about the dam, like:

  • It was 70% overbuilt—engineers wanted to be 170% sure that it would accomplish the task of holding back the Colorado river!
  • It was completed nearly 2 years AHEAD of schedule, and finished under-budget.
  • 96 men lost their lives in the building of the dam, and
    lthough many were due to pneumonia or influenza, even more were reported as being caused by illness so as to avoid paying out insurance on accidental deaths associated with construction.
  • Finished in 1935, the entire construction was completed without ANY complex technological devices; pen and paper calculation, and “eyeballing” were utilized extensively.
  • Accounting for the area’s moderate seismic activity, the dam isn’t actually anchored to the canyon walls. It’s wedged in between the rock, with the water of Lake Mead (the dammed Colorado River) holding it in place. When the canyon walls shift with earthquakes, the dam shifts with them.

Seismic activity is still closely monitored, of course, and the Hoover Dam is thought to be able to withstand above 8.0 shocks on the Richter Scale. It’s also meant to last 2,000 years at efficiency, though it will probably last closer to 3,000.

If you want to know more about the dam or its visiting opportunities, visit the US Bureau of Reclamation’s website at

As a traveler who loves to learn as well as relax and party, I highly recommend this venture for the more adventurous visitors to Las Vegas. It definitely helps to have your own car, and though going in the off-seasons (October through May) probably provides a less crowded (and definitely cooler, temperature-wise) experience, it’s open year-round, and certainly worth the detour.

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