Thirty-five miles southeast (and a world away) from Las Vegas is the awesome panorama of Hoover Dam. Upon first view, all I could think of was, wow!
Between two time zones and two states — Arizona and Nevada — the dam is one of the greatest engineering wonders of the world, drawing more than 1 million visitors every year. This concrete colossus is filled with 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete, enough to pave a 16-foot-by-8-inch road from San Francisco to New York City.
Nearby and spectacularly viewed from the dam’s observation deck is Lake Mead, the country’s largest man-made reservoir and a popular recreation area sought out by more than 9 million people each year.
The newest superlative, the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, opened in late 2010. Perched high above the turquoise Colorado River, this amazing achievement is wedged between the cliffs of the Black Canyon and is the highest and longest arched concrete bridge in the Western hemisphere. Beautifully mimicking the arch of Hoover Dam, it completes the trilogy of reasons to visit this grand part of the West.
And, heck, if you need neon, nightlife and nudity, Sin City is only a half-hour away.
Hoover Dam, called Boulder Dam from 1933 to 1947, almost didn’t happen. The need for a dam to control water to the desert was generally agreed upon. How to accomplish this monumental undertaking was widely discussed and disputed. In the early 1920s, then-Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover led the fight to get it done. Finally, in 1928, President Calvin Coolidge signed a bill authorizing construction of the dam.
Before any work could commence, four diversion tunnels were driven through the Black Canyon — two on the Nevada side and two on the Arizona side. This was done to divert the Colorado River away from the construction site. Chief engineer Frank Crowe lived up to his nickname of “Hurry-Up Crowe,” completing the dam in 1935, two years ahead of schedule.
The naming of the dam was steeped in controversy. In 1930, Interior Secretary Ray Wilbur jumped the gun at a ceremony, referring to it as Hoover Dam. He justified this by saying, “Hoover was the great engineer whose vision and persistence has done so much to make the dam possible.” A writer retorted, “The Great Engineer has quickly drained, ditched and damned the country.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke at the dedication in September 1935. Hoover was not invited. Ahh, politics!
Hoover Dam was reinstated as the official name by Congress in 1947, and it remains an invaluable asset to the country with 17 generators producing 4 billion kilowatts of electricity a year, in addition to being one of the country’s largest hydroelectric power facilities.
Don’t miss tours of the power plant, the eight enormous Nevada state turbines, inspection tunnels, spillways, towers and the many lovely Art Deco designs by Oskar Hansen. His iconic “angels,” called the Winged Figures of the Republic, tower over 30 feet, guarding all who come here. Rub their toes and, according to legend, good luck will come your way.