top of page
  • Writer's pictureMark Vogel

A Closer Look at Hoover Dam: My Tour of The Giant on the Colorado River

Hoover Dam Tour from Las Vegas, Nevada

The Hoover Dam
The Hoover Dam

During my recent stay in Las Vegas, Nevada, I decided to take a break from the glitz and glamour of The Strip to explore a marvel of modern engineering: the Hoover Dam. The tour bus picked me up for what was scheduled as a 3-hour excursion to one of America's most iconic structures.

The journey from Las Vegas to Hoover Dam is a short one, typically taking under an hour. The arid landscapes of Nevada unfold alongside the road, setting the scene for the stark contrast that is Lake Mead, our first stop.

Book a Tour: Top Hoover Dam Tours

“Hoover Dam's significance goes beyond its primary functions of water management and power supply; it stands as a historical landmark representing the United States' resolve during a difficult period and the transformative power of human ingenuity.”

Lake Mead is a massive reservoir formed by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River. It's the largest reservoir in the United States in terms of water capacity, which is a testament to the scale of the dam itself. Today, it serves as a critical water storage facility for the region, providing water to farms, communities, and millions of people in Nevada, Arizona, and California.

After taking in the expanse of Lake Mead, we headed toward the Mike O'Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. Parking nearby, we climbed the steps up to the bridge, which is a spectacle in its own right. The bridge was completed in 2010 as part of a project to improve the infrastructure around Hoover Dam and to enhance security following the 9/11 attacks. It was named in honor of a former Nevada governor and a football player-turned-soldier who died in combat. From the midpoint of this impressive arch bridge, we had a bird's eye view of the dam, a vantage point that frames its massive scale against the river it tames.

The tour guide was a fountain of knowledge as we drove over the dam to the Arizona side, detailing the history of the Hoover Dam. Built during the Great Depression, the dam was a colossal project that provided thousands of jobs. It was completed in 1935 and has been a critical source of hydroelectric power, flood control, and water storage ever since. Its construction showcased the pinnacle of human ingenuity and determination, creating what was then the world's largest dam in one of the harshest environments in North America.

On the way back to Las Vegas, we had the unexpected pleasure of spotting a group of antelope grazing near some homes—a reminder of the blend of natural and human-made landscapes that characterizes this region.

While this visit only included the exterior tour of the Hoover Dam, I plan to return for the interior tour. For those who are curious, the interior tour offers an in-depth exploration of the dam's internal mechanisms. It usually includes a visit to the powerplant and the passageways within the dam itself. Visitors get to see the massive generators and the original diversion tunnels. The highlight for many is standing on a viewing platform within one of the inspection tunnels that run through the dam, where one can feel the vibration from the Colorado River flowing below. The guides share stories of the workers, the construction challenges, and the engineering feats that still stand the test of time.

Although my tour was shorter and limited to the exteriors, Hoover Dam's grandeur was unmistakable, and its historical and cultural significance was palpable at every turn. It is a reminder of the capacity for human achievement and a symbol of the ambition that shaped the modern American West.

Hoover Dam is a treasure trove of historical, technical, and architectural significance, and there's much to tell about this engineering marvel. Here are some facts:

Construction and Purpose:

- Hoover Dam, originally known as Boulder Dam, was constructed between 1931 and 1936 during the Great Depression and was a massive federal project aimed at providing employment, regulating the Colorado River, and providing hydroelectric power to the region.

Design and Engineering:

- The dam is an arch-gravity structure, which means it curves upstream to direct the water pressure against the canyon walls, reducing the pressure on the dam itself.

- It stands at more than 700 feet tall and contains 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete; enough to pave a two-lane highway from San Francisco to New York City.

Economic Impact:

- The dam's construction helped spur the development of the American Southwest, enabling the growth of agricultural development and urban areas like Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Environmental Influence:

- The creation of Lake Mead by the dam has created a habitat for various wildlife and has become a recreational area, but has also raised environmental concerns, especially in recent years due to prolonged drought and overuse that have led to dramatically reduced water levels.

Art and Iconography:

- Hoover Dam is also noted for its Art Deco style, including sculptures and architectural details that were very much in vogue at the time of its construction. For instance, the terrazzo floors embedded with Native American motifs and the monumental bronze sculptures by Oskar J.W. Hansen at the Nevada intake towers are significant artistic features.


- The dam is a major tourist attraction, with upwards of a million visitors annually before the pandemic. People not only come for the engineering and history but also for the breathtaking views of the Colorado River and Black Canyon.

Scientific Significance:

- There's a star map at the dam that marks the celestial alignment at the time of its dedication on September 30, 1935. This kind of “celestial time capsule” was meant to help future astronomers, if necessary, calculate the precession of the earth.

Operational Challenges:

- The dam's hydroelectric power capabilities have decreased over time because of the lower water levels in Lake Mead due to persistent drought conditions exacerbated by climate change.

Security and Upkeep:

- The dam remains an icon of American infrastructure and a critical resource, necessitating stringent security measures and ongoing maintenance efforts to preserve its integrity against natural and man-made threats.

Pop Culture:

-Hoover Dam has been a popular site for movies and television due to its iconic status and impressive structure. It serves as a symbol of American achievement and often provides a dramatic backdrop for action sequences, plot developments, or thematic settings. Here are a few notable appearances:


1. Superman (1978): The dam is famously featured in a scene where Superman prevents its destruction after an earthquake.

2. Transformers (2007): In this science fiction action film, Hoover Dam is used as a secret government base housing the "AllSpark," a powerful alien artifact.

3. Fools Rush In (1997): This romantic comedy starring Matthew Perry and Salma Hayek includes scenes at Hoover Dam where the lead characters share significant moments of their relationship.

4. Vegas Vacation (1997): The Griswold family visits the Hoover Dam during their comedic escapades in Las Vegas, with Clark Griswold inadvertently causing chaos at the site.

5. San Andreas (2015): Although not the focus of the film, Hoover Dam is depicted in a catastrophic scene where an earthquake leads to its destruction, which sets the tone for the film's depiction of a massive natural disaster.


1. American Dad! (2005-present): In one episode, the dam is featured as a target for a terrorist attack, which the main character, Stan Smith, must prevent.

2. Life After People" (2009): The series that explores what might happen if humans suddenly disappeared features the Hoover Dam in an episode, speculating on how it would break down over time without human upkeep.

3. Penn & Teller: Bull$hit! (2003-2010): The show hosted by the magician duo has featured the Hoover Dam in episodes dealing with environmental issues and the discussion of large-scale engineering projects.

4. Timeless (2016-2018): In this time travel series, Hoover Dam is visited in different time periods, highlighting its historical significance.

Hoover Dam's significance goes beyond its primary functions of water management and power supply; it stands as a historical landmark representing the United States' resolve during a difficult period and the transformative power of human ingenuity.


Recent Articles

bottom of page