If you’re visiting Las Vegas, Nevada and you have time to kill I highly recommend taking a day trip to the Hoover Dam! Only a 45-minute drive from the strip, it’s a great getaway from busy downtown and with two different tours, you’ll be sure to leave learning something new.
When I visited the Hoover Dam I arrived mid-morning and crossed the dam to the other Arizona side to look for parking. Around the dam are two covered parking lots, which cost $10 and other scenic parking spaces that are free (but are usually full).
On the Arizona side, you can see where Lake Mead meets the Hoover Dam (originally called Boulder Dam) were four pillars, or the intake towers, stand tall. Behind the dam on either side are spillways where water overflows to when the lake’s water level rises too high.
The 100-foot-long and 16-foot-wide gates are operated manually or automatically. The gates are raised or lowered depending on the water levels in the reservoir. The spillways have only ever been used twice: once during a test in 1941 and the second during flooding in 1983.
Continuing from the spillways we passed the intake towers on the Arizona and Nevada side. The towers are distinguished by title and time: The Nevada towers are located in Pacific Time Zone and the Arizona towers in Mountain Time Zone.
When we crossed the street, you were able to get a top-down view of the damn. The 660 ft. thick bottom, wedge-shaped dam used an arch-gravity design, meaning the curving face would transmit the water’s force into the rock walls of the canyon.
At the bottom of the dam is the power plant, which houses 17 generators. During our tour of the powerhouse, we learned that the entire flow of the Colorado River passes through the turbines. The energy from the Hoover Dam powers the whole city of Las Vegas and other surrounding towns.
Water is passing through each of these turbines that produce hydroelectric power. Under its original design, the dam will not be able to produce power when the water level is below 1,050 feet.
Looking out from the dam, you can see the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, where commercial traffic passes.
The power generated from the dam has allowed the dam to be 100 percent self-sustaining. Proceeds from the sale of power repaid the 50-year construction loan!
Hydroelectric power is fueled by water, so it’s a clean fuel source. Modern hydroelectric power plants convert up to 90 percent of available energy into electricity, compared to fossil fuel plants at 50 percent. When visiting Nevada, the Hoover Dam is not only an educational day trip but an eye-opening experience to how alternative energy sources can shape our future.