More Dam Fun in the Nevada Desert

Arizona Nevada Road Tripping Travel

Okay, okay, I know the dam jokes are pretty worn out, but I just couldn’t help myself.

Leaving the Valley of Fire State Park, we headed out the eastern side of the park towards Lake Mead and Hoover Dam. Both Daniel and I are kind of science geeks, so we couldn’t pass up the chance to visit this place. It felt like we drove for quite some time through desolate desert when we came to the lake edge of Lake Mead.

Lake Mead, the color contrast is astounding. No filters!

The whole thing was quite eerie. Lakeside, there was what looked like an abandoned, boarded up, defunct strip motel, then, when we knocked on the ranger’s station, not a soul answered. Ghost town. We headed onward and found the Lake Mead Visitor’s Center where we encountered some interesting folks, got a view of the lake from a higher elevation and bought some stickers for Sisu. Sisu is my 2016 Subaru Outback who is kind of a yearbook for our adventures. Her hind end is covered with stickers from all the places we’ve been in her short life. She takes us on many of our adventures so I think I’ll save details about her for another posting!

Sisu didn’t travel with us on our Grand Canyon adventure, but she has taken us on many others. Here she is in our driveway!

Another few minutes drive and we found ourselves at the Hoover Dam. What a sight! Hoover Dam is an arch-gravity dam, located on the border of Nevada and Arizona in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River. I am no engineer, so in Tanya Talk, this means that the dam curves upstream, narrowing so that the majority of the water is directed against the rock walls of the canyon rather than the dam itself. It is not the nearest dam to where our river rafting trip started – that would be Glen Canyon Dam near Page, Arizona and the iconic Horseshoe Bend. Construction on Hoover Dam began in the Great Depression in 1931 and was completed, underbudget, two years ahead of schedule in 1936. Hoover Dam is 726 feet tall, 650 feet thick at its base, and 1244 feet long. It took over ten thousand workers to complete this dam and the nearby town of Boulder City (which is ironically, the only city in Nevada where gambling is prohibited) was created to house all the workers and their families.

Photo taken from the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. Check out the cars on the left side of the dam for scale!

When we first arrived to the dam, we hiked up the hill to the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge to view the dam in all her glory. This bridge spans the Colorado River between Arizona and Nevada and was built in 2010 to reroute US 93 from it’s previous routing over the top of the dam. It’s a four lane freeway that also has special lanes for pedestrians and bicyclists. We got a pretty cool bird’s eye view of the dam from here. Hot! Hot! Hot!

View of the Mike O’callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial bridge from the Hoover Dam

Parking was interesting and I felt too cheap to pay the $10 for the close parking, so we crossed the dam and parked on the Nevada side in a free lot. Mind you, the temp outside was now a scorching 108 degrees, but the walk across the bridge and the views of the intake towers took the edge off a little bit.

Walking from the free parking lot across the bridge to the visitor’s center, you can view the massive intake towers.

You might be wondering…how does this all work? In Tanya Talk here it is: water enters the intake towers and flows through large pipes inside the dam that turns turbines. The turbines each turn a shaft that rotates a series of magnets past copper coils and a generator to produce electricity. This then converts the energy of falling water into mechanical energy to drive the generator. Close enough?

Quirky little tour guide showed us around down in the tunnels that were blasted during the construction of the dam. Nice and cool down here!

We decided to continue geeking out with a tour of the power plant. The tour was about 45 minutes long, and began with a video in a very nicely air conditioned theater. After the movie, we continued down, down, down into the bowels of the dam where we got to see the tunnels that were blasted to bypass the river during construction of the dam. A view of the turbines capped off the end of the tour. All in all, a great, informative experience! Recommended.

There are 17 turbines in the dam. The amount of water released each day is actually determined by water needs rather than projected electricity needs.

Finished off our tour and hiked back up to the Grey Booger for the trek back to Vegas. Evening time is coming and we’re in Vegas….what next!?


I'm an only child who grew up on a sailboat, a lover of adventure, a mom, wife, an RN, and a friend of all dogs.

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