Hoover Dam And The Hoover Powerplant

Hoover Dam

Did you know that each year around 7,000,000 people visit Hoover Dam, close to 1,000,000 visitors a year take tours, and millions more drive across the dam?

Until we visited Hoover Dam over spring break, I had no idea. I mean, I knew that it was a popular tourist destination, but I didn’t know it was that popular! So when planning our spring break to Grand Canyon National Park and Petrified Forest National Park, we decided to break up the long drive home with stops at Barringer Meteor Crater and Hoover Dam.

Named one of the Top 10 Construction Achievements of the 20th Century, Hoover Dam is a concrete gravity-arch dam in Black Canyon on the Colorado River that weighs more than 6,600,000 tons and measures 1,244 feet long, 726 feet tall, 45 feet wide at the crest, and 660 feet wide at the base.

Originally named The Boulder Dam, and often called The Boulder Canyon Dam, Hoover Dam connects Clark County, Nevada and Mohave County, Arizona. It was officially renamed Hoover Dam after America’s 31st president, Herbert Hoover in 1947. Hoover played a large role in bringing the nearby states into agreement about water allocations, settling a 25-year controversy, and as result is referred to as the great engineer whose vision and persistence has done so much to make the dam possible.

After visiting Meteor Crater, we hit Hoover Dam at about 1:00 in the afternoon and the long line of vehicles waiting to enter the armed security gates snaked all the way through the winding canyon to the freeway exit! It took us over an hour to get from the freeway to Hoover Dam! So FYI: the middle of the day is the busiest time to visit, so if you’re heading to Hoover Dam with the family, consider going first thing in the morning or later in the afternoon.

Once we reached the dam, we first drove across the Dam from Nevada to Arizona and back, then found some parking in the parking garage. We looked into doing a tour, but to be honest, none of us really wanted to go on a tour (crowds) and we didn’t have unlimited time — we wanted time to explore the Las Vegas Strip too! So we walked the entire dam. From Nevada to Arizona, we walked along the powerplant side of the dam, in the shade, and on the way back, we walked in the sun along the Lake Mead site of the Dam. This gave us the opportunity to enjoy incredible views of the Hoover Powerplant, the Colorado River, Lake Mead, and the intake towers.

But holy moly was it hot!

After that we hit the Gift Shop for a Christmas ornament and a keychain and the snack bar for ice cream. We then headed back to our truck and enjoyed a picnic on the top level of the parking garage with incredible views of both Hoover Dam and the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge… and walking across that bridge to get a bird’s-eye view of Hoover Dam was up next!

About Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam, the largest of its kind at the time, was built during the Great Depression and is considered a marvel of engineering and labor. Located near Boulder City, Nevada, the dam impounds Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States by volume when full. The dam’s generators provide power for public and private utilities in Nevada, Arizona, and California.

At the turn of the 20th century, farmers sought to divert the Colorado River to budding Southwestern communities via a series of canals. When the Colorado broke through the canals in 1905, creating the inland Salton Sea, the job of controlling the raging river fell to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

In 1922, the Bureau outlined a plan before Congress called the Boulder Canyon Project calling for a multipurpose dam in Black Canyon on the Arizona-Nevada border to not only control flooding and irrigation, but generate and sell hydroelectric power. The cost concerned some lawmakers, while representatives of six of the seven states in the river drainage area — Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada — worried that California would get most of the water.

Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover brokered the 1922 Colorado River Compact to divide the water proportionally among the seven states, but the legal wrangling continued until outgoing President Calvin Coolidge authorized the Boulder Canyon Project in December 1928. A consortium called Six Companies, Inc. won the dam contract and construction on the 60 story arch dam began in 1931. It was completed in 1936 two years ahead of schedule and well under budget.

  • The first difficult step of construction involved blasting the canyon walls to create four diversion tunnels for the water. When two of the tunnels were complete, the excavated rock was used to form a temporary coffer dam that successfully rerouted the river’s path in November 1932.
  • The second step was the clearing of the walls that would contain the dam. Suspended from heights of up to 800 feet above the canyon floor, high scalers wielded 44-pound jackhammers and metal poles to knock loose material.
  • Construction of the powerplant, four intake towers, and the dam itself then began in the now-dry riverbed. Cement was mixed onsite and hoisted across the canyon on one of five 20-ton cableways, a fresh bucket capable of reaching the crews below every 78 seconds.

With the body of water that would become Lake Mead already beginning to swell behind the dam, the final block of concrete was poured and topped off at 726 feet above the canyon floor in 1935. On September 30, a crowd of 20,000 people watched President Franklin Roosevelt commemorate the magnificent structure.

Hoover Dam Facts And Trivia

One thing that our family loves is fun facts and trivia. When we’re on the way to check out something new, I provide background information and interesting facts to give some context to what we’re seeing — without sharing any of what Carter calls, “spoiler facts.”

Here are some fun facts about Hoover Dam:

  • Hoover Dam is 726 feet tall — 171 feet taller than the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. and twice as tall as the 338 foot Luxor Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.
  • At the base, Hoover Dam measures 660 feet thick — that is equal to the length of two footballs fields measured end-to-end.
  • As many as 20,000 vehicles a day drive across the 45 foot wide top of the dam between Nevada and Arizona.
  • Hoover Dam uses 4.5 million cubic yards of concrete — enough to build a two-lane road from Seattle to Miami or a four foot wide sidewalk around the Earth at the Equator.
  • The dam was built in vertical columns of blocks that varied in size from about 60 feet square at the upstream face of the dam to about 25 feet square at the downstream face. An estimated 215 blocks make up the dam and they are connected like Lego pieces.
  • A total of 21,000 men worked on the dam with an average of 3,500 and a maximum of 5,218 daily, which occurred in June 1934. The average monthly payroll was $500,000.
  • During peak electricity periods, enough water runs through the generators to fill fifteen 20,000 gallon swimming pools in 1 second.
  • Each of the 30 foot wide penstocks can carry enough water to fill 900 bath tubs in one second, or 960,000 12 oz. soda cans in one second.
  • Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the USA and contains enough water to flood the entire state of New York with one foot of water.
  • Each of the 17 generators can supply electricity to 100,000 households.
  • When operating at full power, the 17 generators can supply all the electricity needed by a city of 750,000 people.
  • The Colorado River is more than 1,400 miles long and supplies water to Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix. Las Vegas gets almost all its water from Lake Mead. Lake Mead was made by Hoover Dam when it blocked the Colorado River and flooded the Mojave Desert.
  • Each of the four intake towers stands 395 feet high and controls one-fourth the supply of water for the powerplant turbines.
  • It would take $2,000,000 worth of copper pennies to make the copper buses that carry electricity inside the powerhouse.
  • Every state in the USA furnished supplies and materials for the construction of the dam.
  • More than 8.5 million pounds of dynamite was used to blast the foundation for the dam and eight miles of tunnels through the canyon walls.
  • Dam construction used 45,000,000 pounds of reinforcement steel, 21,670,000 pounds of gates and valves, 88,000,000 pounds of plate steel and outlet pipes, 6,700,000 pounds or 840 miles of pipe and fittings, 18,000,000 pounds of structural steel, and 5,300,000 pounds of miscellaneous metal work.
  • There are 2700 miles of transmission lines sending electricity from Hoover Dam to Los Angeles.
  • Hoover Dam is 726.4 feet from foundation rock to the roadway on the crest of the dam. The towers and ornaments on the parapet rise 40 feet above the crest.
  • Hoover Dam was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981, recognized as a National Civil Engineering Landmark in 1984, named one of America’s Seven Modern Civil Engineering Wonders in 1994, and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1985.

Hoover Dam Tours

If you’re planning a visit to Hoover Dam, know that you can visit the Dam for no more than the $10.00 parking fee, as walking or driving across the dam is free. If you want to visit the museum, the visitor center, or take the Dam Tour or Powerplant Tour, then you’ll have to buy tickets.

Powerplant Tour

From 1939 to 1949, the u-shaped Hoover Powerplant was the world’s largest hydroelectric installation, with each wing measuring 650 feet long and and 299 feet tall. Today 17 generators produce 4 billion kilowatts of electricity each year and it remains one of the country’s largest facilities.

The guided Powerplant Tour takes about 30 minutes. The Powerplant Tour combines admission to the Visitor Center, presentations by Reclamation guides, audio and film presentations, exhibits, and other media that provide a comprehensive view of the massive dam and its operations, as well as highlight many of the unique features around the site.

On the tour you’ll descend 500 feet in an elevator for an up close look at the powerplant generators at the base of the dam, see the original diversion tunnels, stand on a giant 30 foot pipe and feel the rumble of Colorado River water racing through it, explore the Hoover Dam exhibit building, enjoy panoramic views of the Colorado River and Lake Mead from an observation deck set above the dam, and more.

Hoover Dam Tour

The Dam Tour includes a one hour guided tour of the powerplant and passageways within the dam.

The Hoover Dam Tour includes everything in the Powerplant Tour as well as a unique and intimate tour of the dam itself that provides an unprecedented look inside the dam. You’ll enter the dam through the inspection tunnels, see inspection markings written on the walls from decades past, peek out of the vents down to the river below, see the seepage gallery, and view a set of antique stairs.

Know Before You Go

  • Hoover Dam is located 35 miles south of Las Vegas on U.S. 93 in Clark County, Nevada and Mohave County, Arizona.
  • The parking fee is $10.00 and the parking garage is open 8:00 am to 5:15 pm.
  • The Hoover Dam Visitor Center is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm every day of the year except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Visitor Center tickets are sold from 9:00 am to 4:15 pm. Powerplant Tour Tickets are sold from 9:00 am to 3:45 pm.
  • Dam Tour Tickets sold on a first come first serve basis starting at 9:00 am until sold out.
  • Restrooms are located on Level 1 of the Parking Garage, on the Theater and Exhibit levels of the Visitor Center, adjacent to the Old Exhibit Building, and in the downstream face of the concrete towers on top of the dam.
  • A snack bar and cafe can be found at the base of the Parking Garage next to the Gift Shop.
  • The Hoover Dam Visitor Center and the Powerplant Tour are wheelchair/scooter accessible. The Dam Tour is NOT accessible.
  • The busiest season at Hoover Dam is in the summer from Memorial Day until Labor Day. The slowest months for visitation are January and February. The least crowded time of day for tours is from opening until 10:30 am and 3:00 pm until closing. Traffic around the dam during holidays and weekends can be extremely heavy with long delays on the roadways to the site.
  • Hoover Dam is located in a desert climate. It is extremely HOT in the summer. During summer months it is recommended that you wear light clothing and a hat, use sunscreen and sun glasses, and carry water bottles on the tour.
  • All visitors to the Visitor Center are required to enter the facility through a security checkpoint. Cameras, purses, small-size backpacks, and camera tripods are permitted. All carry-in possessions will be scanned.
  • Pets are not allowed anywhere on site; service animals are permitted.
  • Plan about two hours or more for your entire visit.

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