Monday, January 12, 2009

Dam Fine Place


Hoover Dam may be 68 years old but it still manages to impress. Built in 1935, it remains one of the engineering marvels of the world.

The addition of a new welcome center several years ago has also made Hoover Dam even more inviting for visitors. The three-level, circular concrete structure does a good job of echoing the dam's original art deco design while introducing modern amenities.

The middle level is actually the entrance to the visitor center. After parking in the 400-car garage, you walk to an escalator that carries you down to the main lobby.
From here, you can either be seated in a modern theater to view an historical movie about the dam's construction or line-up for the guided dam tour.

Additionally, the lobby has a couple of exhibits including a wooden kayak used in 1921-22 during the survey to select the dam's location. Named "Marble," the boat was one of three used by the Southern California Edison Company and the U.S. Geological Survey to study the Green and Colorado rivers to find a suitable dam site.

The 18-foot boat is constructed of oak, spruce and cedar and was designed to carried whenever the surveyors reached shallow places in the rivers.

Other exhibits describe the Lake Mead National Recreation Area (created by water backed up by Hoover Dam) as well as construction artifacts and photographs.

The film is fascinating because it was made shortly after completion of the dam and includes historic footage of the construction. It was photographed in black and white, in a 1930s newsreel-style—which is fun to watch—although the narration is more contemporary.

Among the movie's highlights are scenes of workers riding high above the dam construction site on various platforms, footage of dynamite explosions during excavation of the site, and shots of water being diverted around the dam during construction.

Tours of the dam have changed from those offered during previous decades. Instead of lining up above the dam, standing adjacent to U.S. Highway 93 and awaiting an elevator, visitors are whisked from the lobby to the base of the dam in two, 50-passenger, high-speed elevators.

During the 25-minute tour, you can see the dam's massive hydroelectric generators, power transformers, transmission line towers and other equipment.

You also walk 300-feet into a tunnel carved in the canyon wall, through a construction tunnel built in the 1930s, to stand atop a 30-foot diameter pipe that is filled with water rushing into the generators.

Of course, other parts of the dam have thankfully remained unchanged. You can still stroll over the wonderful terrazzo tile floors, carefully handcrafted in Southwestern Native American designs and view sculptor Oskar J.W. Hansen’s magnificent art deco bronze statues entitled “Winged Figures of the Republic.”

Hoover Dam is located about 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas via U.S. 93. The visitor center is open daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas) from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Tickets for the Powerplant Tour (the basic tour) are: $11 for adults (17-61), $9 for seniors (over 62) and $9 for children (4-16). Children under 3 are free.

A more comprehensive two-hour Dam Tour is also available. Tickets are $30 per participant and it is not open to children under 8 or accessible to visitors with wheelchairs or crutches.

For more information contact the Bureau of Reclamation, 702-494-2517 or go to http://www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam/service/index.html.

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