Named one of the Top 10 Construction Achievements of the 20th Century, Hoover Dam continues to draw crowds 80 years after its creation.
Attracting more than a million visitors a year, Hoover Dam is located in Black Canyon, just minutes outside of Las Vegas.
On April 20, 1931, construction began on the Hoover Dam, the largest of its kind at the time. Despite the remote location and harsh working conditions, it was completed on March 1, 1936 in less than five years -- two years ahead of schedule -- and well under budget.
The dam is named after America's 31st president, Herbert Hoover, who played a large role in bringing the nearby states into agreement about water allocations, settling a 25-year controversy. The dam has been called Boulder Canyon Dam as well as Boulder Dam, but Hoover Dam was reinstated as the official name by Congress in 1947.
A National Historic Landmark, Hoover Dam is the highest concrete dam in the Western Hemisphere, standing at more than 725 feet above the Colorado River. With 17 generators producing 4 billion kilowatts of electricity a year, it also is one of the country's largest hydroelectric power facilities. Operation and maintenance of the facility are solely supported by revenue from power sales.
Completed in October 2010, the Mike O' Callaghan -- Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge offers spectacular views that were once only available by helicopter. For those who never fully appreciated the dam, it's hard not to become a fan after this. Visitors have access to drive to this bridge and see the dam from a high vantage point. Located about 1,500 feet south of the Hoover Dam, the walkway on the bridge is approximately 900 feet above the Colorado River.
One neat fact is that visitors can go from Nevada to Arizona after crossing the 1,900-foot-long bridge. There are plenty of informative placards before and during the bridge walk. The construction of the bridge came to mind in the 1960s, but didn't actually happen until 40 years later. This bypass was created to not only reduce traffic, but also to protect Lake Mead and the Colorado River from hazardous spills and explosions.
Two tours of the dam are available and well worth the time and money spent. For $11 per person (discounts available for children, seniors and active military) is the Hoover Dam Power Plant Tour. It is broken up into several components at numerous locations. The unique tour format allows guests to pick and choose which locations they want to see and the complete tour generally lasts about two hours. The Hoover Dam Power Plant Tour begins with a brief video show depicting the history of Hoover Dam and how it came to be. Afterwards, a guide will escort you to an elevator for a 500-foot descent to get an up-close look at the power plant generators housed at the base of the dam. Guests will also see the original diversion tunnels and stand atop a giant, 30-foot pipe where they can feel the rumble of Colorado River water racing through it.
Another interesting stop on the tour is an observation deck set above the dam affording panoramic views of the Colorado River and Lake Mead. The location also provides a bird's-eye view of the Hoover Dam facility, including an unobstructed look at the dam's mechanical components.
The tour continues with several stops along the top of the dam, from the Winged Figures of the Republic to the Nevada Intake Tower.
The second tour option is the new Dam Tour. For $30 per person visitors can enjoy all the options of the Power Plant Tour (including access to the visitor's center, observation deck and original Hoover Dam exhibit building), but they will also get to experience a unique and intimate tour of the dam itself.
The tour continues with an unprecedented look inside the dam, entering through the inspection tunnels. Visitors will be able to see inspection markings written on the walls from decades past and then peek out of the vents down onto the river below. After the inspection tunnels, guests will get to go deeper into the dam and see the seepage gallery and a set of antique stairs. This is the ultimate tour for those interested in the Hoover Dam.
The view from the dam also offers a breathtaking look at Lake Mead, the country's largest man-made reservoir. Although water levels have been low recently, Lake Mead can store up to 9.2 trillion gallons of water, equal to two years of the river's annual flow. It also has become a popular recreation area, sought out by more than 9 million visitors each year.
Note: At the Mike O' Callaghan -- Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, there is limited parking reserved for visiting guests only. Those taking ground transportation tours to the Grand Canyon will be able to cross bridge, but not stop. Depending on the tour vehicle height, guests may not get a view of the Hoover Dam on the way back from the Grand Canyon.