Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Hoover Dam: A Must-Do Las Vegas Side Trip


In March of 2012, my cousin Marriann and I headed down to “Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada” for a girlie weekend. We walked the Strip until our high-heeled feet could walk no more, overpaid for some glam dresses, and even ventured into a high-roller room and got a tutorial on how to play the high-roller slots from one of the casino workers. (There were two machines “on hold” in that particular room because the people who had been playing them the night before had invested over $400,000 in each machine, and were intent on winning the jackpot. My mind boggled - who has $400,000 to drop into a slot machine? How does that even work?)

Las Vegas boulevard
All dolled up and ready to rock the Las Vegas Strip!

But the whole trip wasn’t about the Vegas Strip and hopping from casino to casino. One of the items on my travel bucket list is to stand on the top of Hoover Dam and stare down the amazingly steep drop. So Marriann and I booked a morning trip out to the Dam through Grey Line Tours (the same company I used repeatedly during my Cancun trip last Spring Break). The tour bus picked us up outside our hotel, The Excalibur. They were forty-five minutes late, but I guess this is normal in Vegas, especially for a morning trip. Most people are late getting to the pick-up site due to their, er, activities from the night before.

Standing outside the famous Las Vegas sign at the entrance to the city.

Once we were on our way, I really enjoyed myself. Our tour guide, Harriet, had a gentle, rhythmic accent that was pleasing to listen to. She knew a lot about Las Vegas and the surrounding countryside, and didn’t sugar coat anything. She was dead-honest about the financial difficulties that Vegas was going through, the potential water shortage of 2020, and the amount of houses standing vacant, never having a single owner step foot in them. She also pointed out a lot of great points of interest, such as Frank Sinatra’s old house, Steve Wynn’s giant mansion with personal waterfall, and some of the oldest casinos in the valley.

Frank Sinatra's former home just outside Las Vegas.

Before arriving at Hoover Dam, Harriet took us to the bypass bridge just a five minute drive away. The bypass bridge was built to prevent heavy traffic from destroying the Hoover Dam, since previous to the bypass bridge, all traffic had to cross the Dam to get to the other side of the valley. Now Hoover Dam is only open to tours and tourists, and if you drive across it, you have to turn around at a dead-end on the other side and cross back. The bypass bridge was just as amazing as Hoover Dam in my opinion.

The bypass bridge offers a fabulous view of Hoover Dam.

It is called the Mike O’Callaghan Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge in honor of some prestigious but dead locals. The bridge is 890 feet high, built 1060 feet across a wide valley over top of the Colorado River. It is incredible to see, and offers some amazing views of Hoover Dam. Halfway down the bridge, you can literally straddle the Nevada and Arizona state line.

Standing on the bypass bridge right outside the Hoover Dam.

Straddling the state line of Nevada and Arizona - too cool!

We spent about half an hour exploring the Memorial Bridge, and then it was back on the bus to finally get down to the Dam. We drove across the bridge so that we could say we’d been to the Dam on both the Nevada and the Arizona sides. Harriet then parked our bus and we had two hours to explore and do whatever we wanted while at the site.

Hoover Dam in all its glory.

Marriann and I began by walking across to the Arizona side to get a close-up view of one of the huge and intimidating spillway tunnels, built right into the mountainside in case flooding threatened the Dam. The hole was gigantic and spiraled down into nothing but darkness. It made me slightly dizzy to look at.

The giant overflow tunnels of Hoover Dam - they're dizzying!

We strolled along the edge of the structure, daring ourselves to look down the steep concrete face into the Colorado River far below.

The looooong drop down to the bottom of Hoover Dam.

We rubbed the angel’s feet for luck at the memorial site for all the men who worked and died during the making and running of the Dam. We stopped at the burial site of Blackie the dog, the only thing to be buried in Hoover Dam. He had been a beloved pet of the construction workers during the building of Hoover Dam in the 1930s, until he was killed when a worker backed over him with a truck. So sad!

Rubbing the statue's feet for luck - but I didn't win big in Vegas that night. :(

Part of the tour package was a ticket to tour the actual power plant inside and below the dam. During our last hour at the Dam, we went 400 feet below ground into the heart of the power plant to check out the generators and diversion tunnels. We learned about the amazing feats of engineering and construction that went into the construction of Hoover Dam. I never had thought about the fact that the entire Colorado River had to be diverted to enable the workers to build the Dam in the river’s original path. As we were standing in a tunnel listening to the tour guide describe this strenuous process, he pointed out that we were actually standing in an original diversion tunnel, and that about 75 years ago, the Colorado River had been raging through it! It was pretty cool.

Inside the old diversion tunnel - a raging river used to flow through this!

The power plant tour lasted 45 minutes, and ended with us exploring the exhibits and finding a bite to eat at the small cafe on the Nevada side of the Dam. We ate quickly, explored the High Scaler Man statue which contains the names of all the men who died during the construction of Hoover Dam, and then headed back to the bus.

Monument to all the fallen workers of Hoover Dam.

The Hoover Dam tour was a lovely side trip addition to our Vegas vacation. It was interesting, had amazing views and fascinating stories, and quite frankly, was a nice break from the hustle and bustle of busy Las Vegas. Besides, there isn’t a whole lot to do in Las Vegas on the Strip in the morning. I would recommend that if you are visiting Vegas, and you have a morning to kill, definitely book the Hoover Dam tour!

3 comments:

  1. Sounds like a lot of fun! Glad you're enjoying the break....:( I saw a documentary on building the dam, it was quite a feat for the time. see you next week!

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  2. It was a pretty amazing structure!

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  3. It's an amazing feat when you actually get to see it. Highly recommend going to see it!

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