When you’re traveling to the Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam is almost impossible to miss!
Helicopter flights, bus tours or your own rental car; they all lead you past the second largest dam of America. Annually, the Hoover Dam welcomes almost 1 million visitors. So, plenty of reasons to line up the Hoover Dam Tours!
There are different ways to see the Hoover Dam; from the air, with organized transportation (bus) or on your own.
1. From the air
Have you booked a helicopter flight from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon (or are you planning to do so)? Good news: almost all helicopter flights to the Grand Canyon cross the Hoover Dam!
There’s also a helicopter flight from Las Vegas to the Hoover Dam and back (the Lake View Heli Tour). Very attractive cost wise: at the moment we are writing this, the costs are just 39 dollars per person! Note: The Hoover Dam is close to Las Vegas (especially with a helicopter), so the flight only takes a few minutes.
2. Organized Tour from Las Vegas
Is being high up in the air not really your thing? Of course there’s also a bus that can take you from Las Vegas to the Hoover Dam. When you take the Hoover Dam Bus Tour you will be picked up from your Vegas hotel and brought to the Hoover Dam in 45 minutes. You will spend an hour and a half at the Hoover Dam, during which you’ll have access to the Visitor Center, the museum and the movie ‘Construction of the Hoover Dam’.
3. Own transportation
Of course, you can also visit the Hoover Dam on your own, for example with your rental car on your way to the Grand Canyon. The Dam is easy to reach and there are plenty of parking facilities available. The Hoover Dam offers the ‘Hoover Dam Powerplant Tour’, which you can already book online. Saves you having to queue! Some details of the tour:
- You can book the tour up to 90 days prior to your visit.
- The costs are $15 for adults and $12 for children (aged 4 to 16) and senior citizens (62+).
- What do you get in return? Quite a lot! Access to the Visitor Center with an exhibition about the Hoover Dam, a 10-minute movie about the Hoover Dam, a tour inside the construction of the dam (to be reached with an elevator that descends 160 meters) and access to the ‘Observation Deck’, with stunning views over the dam and Lake Mead.
- Useful links: Here you can find all the details of the Powerplant Tour. Tickets for this tour can be booked here.
- The Hoover Dam is managed by the bureau of Reclamation, part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The cause of the construction of the Hoover Dam
For millions of years, the Colorado River ran uninterruptedly from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California. With its destructive force, over time the Colorado left behind a highly impressive landscape, with characteristic colossal canyons like the Grand Canyon and the Black Canyon. The melting snow from the Rocky Mountains caused an enormous inflow into the Colorado, which – every springtime again, resulted into floods.
When human settlements started to establish in the lower areas, this force of nature led to a lot of trouble and damage. Especially the farms that were situated in these areas, suffered a lot. The turbulent river needed to be tamed.
That’s why in 1921, Herbert Hoover came with the suggestion to construct what was going to be called the Boulder Dam (after the eponymous Boulder Canyon). Because of the involvedness and effort of the – at the time – Minister of Economic Affairs, the dam was named the Hoover Dam. The eventual location can be found near Black Canyon. In addition to the fact that the dam constrained those periodic floods, the water could be stored for irrigation and usage purposes. A self-sufficient dam that could generate an income through water energy.
Construction of the Hoover Dam
In 1931 – meanwhile Hoover had worked his way up to be the 31st president of the United States – the construction works of the gigantic dam started. Thousands of male workers (approximately 21,000) took their families along to the Black Canyon to tame the Colorado river. During the Great Depression, working conditions were particularly miserable. Unbearable heat and a huge lack of hygiene eventually led to the death of 96 people. This caused so much protest that the construction of Boulder City was speeded up.
Completion of the Hoover Dam
Two years sooner than expected, in 1936, the construction of the Hoover Dam was completed. Special about this project was the fact that concrete was poured in vertical columns. This to make the material dry better. The Hoover Dam contains 215 of such blocks, which subsequently were put together as a monolithic whole by using a special technique. All in all, accounting for some 3.25 million cubic yards (approximately 2.5 million liters) in concrete. That’s enough concrete to construct a two-lane road from Seattle, Washington to Miami, Florida. Or a one-meter wide sidewalk around the world (!). In addition, about 5 million barrels of cement were used in the construction, as well as 8.5 ton of dynamite to clear space for the fundament in the walls of the canyon.
For Las Vegas, the Hoover Dam Project was exactly what the city needed. It gave a boost to the economy that was so welcome in those days. In their spare time, people needed entertainment and went to the nearby gambling capital to spend their hard-earned money. In addition, the dam attracted tourists, and this made the tourism in Vegas flourish along with it.
A drastic and inventive, yet successful project. Since its completion, the Hoover Dam has ensured many benefits. With 3.0 million horsepower, nowadays the dam generates an annual 4 billion kWh. Enough to provide energy to the 1.3 billion people in the states of Nevada (25%), Arizona (19%) and California (56%). Moreover, the Hoover Dam offers water supply to no less than 22 million people in these states.
A by-product of the Hoover Dam is Lake Mead: a 640 km2 reservoir behind the dam that stretches for 177 kilometers. Its maximum depth of 149 meters makes sure that the volume of this enormous lake adds up to 35.2 km³. With a coastline of a total of 885 kilometers, it is the largest artificial lake and reservoir in the United States (and the 16th largest in the world). The lake has been named after Elwood Mead, head of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation at the time the Hoover Dam was built. He supervised the project.
The lake has been situated in a place where three desert ecosystems come together: the Mojave, Great Basin and Sonoran Deserts. Due to this, the surrounding area is home to a highly diverse flora and fauna, of which some species can only be found here. Impressive lava hills, some of which 6 million years old, can also be found in this area. Because of the emergence of the lake after the construction of the dam, various bordering villages needed to be evacuated. Depending on the water levels, the ruins of these villages can be seen.
- Height: 726.4 feet (221.4 meters).
- Dam thickness: At the top, the dam is about 15 meters wide, at the bottom however, the width is approximately 200 meters.
- Weight: 6.6 million ton.
- Maximum water pressure: 45,000 pounds per square foot (approximately 20.5 thousand kilos per 0.09 m2).
- Costs: 49 million dollars (nowadays $676 million).
- Traffic: Every day, about 13,000 to 16,000 people pass the dam.
- Location: on the Arizona-Nevada border, near Boulder City, 48 km southeast of Las Vegas.
- Time zone: the Hoover Dam is situated right on the border of Arizona and Nevada. So in the middle of the dam you’re standing in two states at once. You’re also in two time zones: Nevada is on Pacific Standard Time (PST) and Arizona has Mountain Standard Time (MST). One hour of time difference. How extraordinary is that?