Visiting Hoover Dam (and Dispelling the Myth that All Dams are Made by Beavers)

Hoover Dam

During one day of our accidental vacation in Las Vegas (car trouble), the three of us made a trek to visit the massive feat of human engineering that is Hoover Dam.

Located about 30 miles from Las Vegas, the 726-foot Hoover Dam forms a towering border between Nevada and Arizona. Shaped like a huge curved ax head, the dam is 45 feet wide at the top and 660 feet thick at the bottom. That’s the length of two football fields!

Justin and I had both been to the dam before, but that was prior to 2010, when the new O’Callaghan-Tillman Memorial Bridge opened, which allows traffic to bypass the dam. So this was a new experience, with far less traffic.

We had been planning our visit to the dam for a while (in fact we missed it a few months ago, so she had plenty of time to think on it), and Bria was very eager. Every time we discussed the stop, she had more questions. So when we arrived, she was ready to go with her list of discoveries to make:

  • Did beavers make it? Or was it people? (though she was pretty sure at the beginning that beavers make dams)
  • What is it made of? Wood? Cement? Something else?
  • How big is it?

Now that the bridge is in place, access is only available from the Nevada side (there may be future plans to change this – check my facts before you drive around to be sure they are still current). We stopped at a security checkpoint, then continued down to a parking garage where we left our car and hoofed it onto the dam.

Hoover Dam

There are some restrictions on what vehicles are allowed to drive over the dam. Check out this pdf for details on the regulations. By the way, pets are not allowed anywhere on the site (including the parking garage), so if you are traveling with your four-legged friend, you may need to make other arrangements.

From the parking garage you can access the tours, the visitor center, and also a small snack shack (hooray for ice cream on a hot day in the desert). You can also walk down onto the top of the dam itself.

Hoover Dam

We opted not to explore the Hoover Dam Interpretive Center or pay for a tour, instead checking things out for ourselves. We walked across one side of the dam and came back the other, stopping to talk about the signs we saw, photograph the view, and discuss Bria’s list of questions. It really is quite a beautiful site, and amazing to think of what went into it – the ingenuity of design and manpower are something spectacular to appreciate.

TIP: Parking in the garage is $7. If you drive over the dam and park on the Arizona side, there are several lots with free parking available. It is more of a trek if you want to walk down over the dam or to the visitor center, but the view from that side is better than any view on the Nevada side.

For another fantastic view of Hoover Dam after you have explored, head to the bridge interpretive center, which allows you access to walk out onto the pedestrian walkway alongside the new bridge. It can be found on the left side of the street as you head west back toward the highway.

Want to find out more? There is a learning packet available for download here.

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