By Debi Lander
As I flew to Las Vegas, I looked out the window and got a surprise: an aerial view of the Hoover Dam. The awe-inspiring sight of this feat of American engineering filled me with wonder.
After collecting 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 visiting the dams, but also offers panoramic views of Lake Mead. Inside, many restaurants and small casinos meet your expectations.
I understood that the Hoover Dam Visitor Center was closed (due to Covid), as were tours inside the tunnels, but that didn’t stop me. Exploring the United States National Monument takes no more than half a day (including a tunnel tour) and much less if you’re in a rush.
I walked down the promenade towards the dam, reading the signage and photographing as I went. The Hoover Dam was built between 1930 and 1936 in a wasteland, a forbidden dry and rocky desert. The goal was to help control Colorado River flooding and divert water where it was needed. More 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 the 6.6 million meters of concrete were poured. Imagine working in sweltering heat digging tunnels choked with carbon monoxide or swinging at a height of 800 feet to clear the canyon walls. Over the years, some 21,000 workers have contributed to the entire construction.
The sight of the complex overwhelmed me. Everything about the place seems oversized. I glanced at the angled transmission towers supported by massive struts and looked down at the huge rounded concrete curtain. The dam is 726 feet high and 1,244 feet long, or nearly a quarter of a mile. According to some research online, âAt its base, the dam is 660 feet thick, about two football fields stretching end to end. At its top, the Hoover Dam is almost as wide as a four-lane highway.
All visitors notice the 30-foot-tall Art Deco statues, known as the “Winged Figures of the Republic”. The pair resemble seated humans with sharp, angular features and wings that rise straight up to the sky. Sculptor Oskar Hansen created them with more than four tons of statuary bronze. Both are now weathered with a green patina, except where visitors follow the tradition of rubbing their feet for good luck.
A celestial map embedded in the terrazzo floor surrounds the ceremonial area of ââthe monument. The base marks the day the Hoover Dam was opened by President Franklin Roosevelt on September 30, 1935.
The river supported by the dam creates Lake Mead, one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. When the water hits the blockade, it drops 500 feet through pipes to a hydroelectric power station at the base. The water turns 17 hydraulic turbines, which then turn a series of electric generators. The engineering miracle produces a power capacity of 2,080 megawatts. Almost half of the electricity produced goes to Los Angeles and Southern California; the rest goes to Nevada and Arizona.
A federal road crosses the crest of the dam, although I did not approach from that direction. Over the years, as traffic increased, backups took place and September 11, 2001 added severe security restrictions. Therefore, a new concrete arch bridge with a span of 1,060 feet – the longest in North America for this type of bridge – opened in 2005. I climbed the stairs to climb the Memorial Bridge. for a panoramic view, stopping to read plaques while I caught my breath.
Our national parks present spectacular landscapes, but some of our man-made wonders are also worth a visit.
Visit www.bylandersea.com for more stories and travel tips from local travel writer Debi Lander.
Photos courtesy of Debi Lander
Aerial view of the Hoover Dam.