Every time I am off on one of my racecations, I always try and fit in some fun tourist items. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. When I knew I was going to be going to Las Vegas for a half marathon in February, my only tourist goal that weekend was to do a visit to the Hoover Dam. It’s always been on my must visit places and I booked my trip around not only the race but to make sure I had time to visit the Dam.
Prior to my trip, I had done some research on guided Dam tours and had talked to some friends who recently visited as well. Most everyone I spoke to suggested to not book an official tour, but rather just show up and book something and that’s what I did. I was staying in Henderson and the Hoover Dam was just about 20 minutes away, so I decided to use Friday morning of my trip as the day to visit. The drive to Hoover Dam was low key, but once you got in Boulder City and headed down toward Lake Mead National Recreational Park, the views opened up and were just stunning! I enjoyed the final miles to Hoover Dam from this point.
Parking at Hoover Dam was $10 and I am sure unless you’re coming in on a bus, there is no way around that. Once arriving at the visitor’s center, we decided to do the one hour Dam Tour. Luckily we were only about 20 minutes from the start of the next one, so timing worked out well. This tour included not only to go into the power plant, but also through the Dam and passageways. The cost of the tour was $30. All things considered, I actually thought this was a pretty reasonable price.
We watched a short film on the building of the Dam prior to the start of our tour. From here, you take a 70 second elevator ride down over 500 feet to the power plant. If you are claustrophobic, the elevator ride can be rough. They pack you in like cattle. I think I counted almost 40 people in the one. Luckily, our first elevator ride wasn’t too crowded, but some of the others after were pretty bad.
Once you’re down in the depth of the tour, the first area you visit is the Penstock viewing room. At first glance, you might not think much of these pipes, but they are actually 30 feet in diameter and our tour guide told us that a double decker bus can drive through them. These were the pipes that the water from Lake Mead flows through to the dam’s hydroelectric generators. From here you head to the one of the main areas where the generators are housed. These were impressive! For the tour you remain only on the Nevada side and don’t head over to the Arizona side at all. It’s interested how everything is very well labeled to be Nevada or Arizona. And if you’re a women and need to use the restroom, expect to have to walk to Arizona for that. Men use the restroom in Nevada and women’s in Arizona.
One of the things I noticed in this part of the tour was the terrazzo floors. These were done for something under $60,000 back then. It was amazing to think that in the 30’s they would think of such a finishing. It was truly amazing and the art work laid within the floor itself was also stunning. This is a floor that will certainly last a lifetime. From this point in the tour, the group was separated for those who continued on into the dam via inspection tunnels and those who headed back up for the conclusion of their tour. While the power plant was fascinating, I found the second part of the tour to be the better half.
This is where our tour guide just started to shine. You could tell he loved his job and he did not ever tire of the “dam” jokes. It also helped that I think our group kept egging on the dam jokes, so he kept them coming. It was amazing to literally walk through history as we transversed the inspection tunnels. You could see history written upon the wall. The guide explained that the concrete deep within the dam walls is still curing and will still be curing for years to come.
The best and scariest part of the tour came when we got to walk out to an air vent. I almost did not make it there though. Halfway through the air vent, you had to cross over a grate with a bottomless pit to who knows where. I almost couldn’t do it. I had to get a running start and try to jump over the entire vent. I certainly started sweating a bit. However, once I made it over and got to the air vent, it was worth the view. You felt the air coming up from the river below and it was just stunning to see nothing but concrete all around.
The next interesting part of the tour was when our tour guide brought us to the scariest set of stairs that I have ever seen in my life. In fact, if it was life and death to vacate the dam, I wouldn’t make it and you’d find me buried within the tunnels. These steps were so narrow and so steep. I looked quickly and again because my lovely fear of heights, quickly then backed away. That was a quick no on those. Thankfully the tour guide didn’t ask us to try them out. Of course, the only way out of the dam was to head up. Once we were back up on the road way at the top, the tour was officially over. We decided to walk over to the Arizona side to we could catch in all of the views. Along the way we I tried to be in 2 places at one time. Since it’s on the sidewalk and most people didn’t realize what it was, it was hard to get them to stop for a picture.
After catching some more pictures on the Dam, we started to head back to Henderson. On the way out though, we did a quick stop at the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. It was a short walk up the bridge span. Again, due to my lovely heights, I kept on the inside of the sidewalk and held on tight whenever I could. Between the trucks going 70mph or more, the wind and people, I was a nervous wreck. I was able to make it about 20 seconds to do a picture from the top. I can’t say the view was worth the sweaty palms, but I am sure for many it absolutely was. I learned later that this bridge is the second highest in the US. So the fear was absolutely rational.
On the final way out of the Hoover Dam area, we stopped quickly at one of the Lake Mead overlooks. Here we were able to see some of the course of the Historic Railroad Trail that we would actually be running the half marathon on. We also stopped into the visitor’s center at the Lake Mead National Recreational Park where I got to totally nerd about some more and learn more about the lake. I honestly did not know how vast Lake Mead truly was! After that, we headed into downtown Boulder City for lunch at The Dillinger. The staff at the visitors center recommended it and it was a great place! Not only did they serve up some amazing burgers, but the building was an old bank and they kept a lot of that appeal around.
This was a great way to spend a Friday and I am glad I was able to check The Hoover Dam off the must see list. For us, it was about a half days worth of adventure and it really worked well. I am sure you can make the visit longer, but for me, I felt that I got to explore everything I wanted (and more!). I do know the next time I am there and it’s nice weather, I’ll be spending time on Lake Mead though.