In 1928 Congress authorized $175 million for construction of a dam on the Colorado River to control destructive floods, provide a steady water supply to seven Colorado River Basin states, and generate electricity. Considered one of the seven wonders of the industrial world, the Art Deco Hoover Dam is 726 feet high (the equivalent of a 70-story building) and 660 feet thick (more than the length of two football fields) at the base. Construction required 4.4 million cubic
yards of concrete—enough to build a two-lane highway from San Francisco to New York. Originally referred to as Boulder Dam, the structure was later officially named Hoover Dam in recognition of President Herbert Hoover's role in the project. Look for artist Oskar Hansen's plaza sculptures, which include the 30-foot-tall Winged Figures of the Republic (the statues and terazzo floor patterns were copied at the new Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Downtown Las Vegas).
The tour itself is a tradition that dates back to 1937, and you can still see the old box office on top of the dam. But now the ticketed tours originate in the modern visitor center, with two choices of tour. The cheaper, most popular one is the Powerplant Tour, which starts every 15 minutes or so. It's a half-hour, guided tour that includes a short film and then a 537-foot elevator ride to two points of interest: a less-than-overwhelming view of a diversion tunnel, and the more impressive eight-story room housing still-functional power generators. Self-paced exhibits follow the guided portion, with good interactive museum exhibits and a great indoor/outdoor patio view of the dam from the river side. The more extensive Hoover Dam Tour includes everything on the Powerplant Tour but limits the group size to 20 and spends more time inside the dam, including a peek through the air vents. Tours run from 9 to 5 in the winter and 9 to 6 in the summer. Visitors for both tours submit to security screening comparable to an airport. January and February are the slowest months, and mornings generally are less busy. The top of the dam is open to pedestrians and vehicles, but you have to remain in your vehicle after sundown. The new bypass bridge is the way to and from Arizona. Those willing to pass a security checkpoint (with inspections at the discretion of officers) can still drive over the dam for sightseeing, but cannot continue into Arizona; you have to turn around and come back after the road dead-ends at a scenic lookout (with a snack bar and store) on the Arizona side. The dam's High Scaler Café is fine for a cold drink or an ice-cream cone, and the outdoor café tables even have misters. But you can improve upon the $9 burger by having lunch in Boulder City instead.
U.S. 93, east of Boulder City, Boulder City, Nevada, 89005, United States