Hoover Dam

The last time I visited Hoover Dam was with my parents about 12 years ago. I was surprised to see all of the changes with the new Hoover Dam Bypass which is named the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. Mike O’Callaghan was a Korean War Veteran, the Governor of Nevada from 1971-1979 and the editor of the Las Vegas Sun newspaper. Pat Tillman gave up a multi-million dollar contract with the Arizona Cardinals and enlisted as an infantryman in the US Army. He was killed by friendly fire during the war in Afghanistan in 2004.

All US 93 traffic now uses the Hoover Dam Bypass rather than driving over the Hoover Dam. This eliminates the traffic congestion created by the heavy commercial and visitor traffic that would wind through the sharp turns of the former US 93 route that passed over the Hoover Dam. The bypass bridge has a nice pedestrian sidewalk with an interesting display detailing the construction of the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. The view from this bridge is impressive. Visitors now access Hoover Dam by parking either in the parking garage or in one of the parking lots along the old US 93 route and then walking to the Hoover Dam.

Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge
Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

Another change since my last trip was the enhanced security for tourists that enter the area. All vehicles accessing the visitor parking area are subject to a search. I must say that this was the most comprehensive yet efficient search that we have experienced yet. It was actually done with some intelligence compared to our experience in Baja and along the US/Mexico border. The Baja military checks were just a cursory look into the vehicle and somebody would usually look at the maps or books behind my passenger seat. The US border patrol didn’t do much more than ask us ‘where are you going’ and ‘from where did you come’. They barely even looked at our passports! But here, at Hoover Dam, they asked us to unzip our roof top tent, they opened up the back of the vehicle, they asked about the inverter and looked inside our cooler and inside most of the boxes in the back of our car. It was all completed in about 2-3 minutes.

View from the new bypass bridge.
View from the new bypass bridge.
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View of the facilities behind the Hoover Dam.
Approaching the dam from the parking area. These are the huge intake valves that power the massive generators.
Approaching the dam from the parking area. These are the huge intake towers that power the massive generators.

We took the Dam Tour to learn about the inner workings of the dam and see how the hydro-electric power was generated. I think that the Powerplant Tour would have been more informative but we missed the last one for the day. Although the Dam Tour was interesting, it felt like the tour guide was reciting from a memorized script. He wasn’t able to really answer any of the questions from the group. It was still impressive to see the inside of the dam.

Schematic of how the hydro-electric power is generated.
Schematic of how the hydro-electric power is generated.
Francis-turbine generators
Francis-turbine generators
Taken in 1983, this was only the second time that the spillway was used (due to a flood). The first was just a test of the spillway.
Taken in 1983, this was only the second time that the spillway was used (due to a flood). The first time was just to test the spillway.
  • More than 5 million barrels of concrete were used to build the dam; enough concrete to build a two lane highway from Seattle, WA to Miami, FL.
  • At its base, the maximum water pressure is 45,000 pounds / square foot
  • The building of the dam created Lake Mead, one of the largest man-made lakes in the world with 550 miles of shoreline over an area of 247 miles.
She was happy to pose for my camera while the professional took a break.
She was happy to pose for my camera while the professional took a break.

After our day at Hoover Dam, we returned to Boulder Beach where we were camping and went out for a short run along the Railroad Tunnel Trail. Because of the light, I couldn’t get a good photo of the tunnels, but here is one of the views that we enjoyed at the campground.

Sunset run along Railroad Tunnel Trail.
Sunset run along Railroad Tunnel Trail.

The next day we went into the town of Boulder City. The town was created to lodge the thousands of workers and their families that came to work on Hoover Dam. They never expected that the town would survive after the completion of the dam but there is a small, thriving community of 15,000 that depends upon tourists although it’s only one of two towns in Nevada that doesn’t allow gambling. We spent just a short time here. Just long enough to take a few photos of the old storefront signs, have lunch and for Darryl to stop at the only barber shop in town. DSC00358

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