Nothing can top Las Vegas, but Nevada does have one other mighty claim to fame that’s only about an hour outside of town: the Hoover Dam. This engineering marvel transformed the Southwest, making it possible to actually live in Las Vegas and the rest of the region.
Getting to the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead
As you drive towards the dam from Vegas, you’ll eventually hit I-93 South. Passing through Boulder City, you’ll come over a rise, and then, BAM! You’ll be surrounded by the magnificent, 9.2 trillion-gallon Lake Mead. (You can also take an organized tour if you’d rather not do the driving yourself. See below for more details.)
The Hoover Dam
Until the Hoover Dam came along, the twin evils of drought and flooding made living in the region downright treacherous. Building an urban supercenter of entertainment, glitz and neon was out of the question.
(On the plus side: it’s all that tumultuous weather that carved the Grand Canyon.)
But starting in 1928, an army of thousands assembled to begin building this technical wonder. The annual floods stopped. Irrigation became possible. And the dam immediately became the hub for hydroelectric power, enabling modern civilization to take hold here.
Although the dam is enormous, mechanical and, perhaps for some, a bit boring to look upon, there are lovely architectural elements to behold. Witness, for instance, the Art Deco touches – it was built in the 1920s and 1930s, after all. We especially like the 30-foot bronze sculpture known as Winged Figures of the Republic.
Tours are available here, ranging in cost from about $10 per person to about $30 per person.
The Hoover Dam holds back the glorious consequence of its creation, Lake Mead, whose 700-mile shoreline is the center of the National Park Service’s Lake Mead National Recreation Area. After paying your $10 per vehicle entrance fee, you can indulge in a bit of sport fishing, kayaking, boating, water skiing, canoeing, bird-watching, ranger-guided hiking along desert trails, scenic drives, and picnicking.
Tour Groups to the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead
A number of companies offer tours to get you to the dam and lake. Here are a few:
Hoover Dam Tour Company
This company offers free hotel-to-hotel service and narrates the trip, which takes about 8 hours total (including visiting time at the sites). You’ll have two hours to explore the engineering wonder of the dam, and the opportunity to take a cruise on Lake Mead itself. The Deluxe Tour offers lunch, while the regular one does not.
Grand Canyon Tour Company
The Grand Canyon Tour Company offers a number of tours, ranging in cost from about $30 per person to $70 per person, and claims to offer “the fastest tour in town,” a four-hour trip that gives you two hours to explore the dam.
Papillon is French for “butterfly,” and this company allows you to tack on a helicopter tour to your Hoover Dam bus tour.
However you get to the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, make sure to go! They truly are, collectively, one of the engineering wonders of the world.