Wikimedia Commons/Shawn Hartley
AAA Editor Notes
Hoover Dam is along SR 172 (Hoover Dam Access Rd.), about 8 mi. n.e. of Boulder City. Soaring 726 feet high (about 60 stories), this curved wall of concrete is one of the highest arched-gravity dams ever constructed. It's also a hugely popular day trip from Vegas, and with good reason. The Depression-era engineering marvel (built 1931-35) sits in Black Canyon, a ruggedly dramatic Colorado River chasm that's home to the dam, its mega-wattage hydroelectric power plant and a visitor center/tourist complex with all the bells and whistles.

Hoover Dam was lucky enough to be born in the 1930s, the peak of the Art Deco craze. Witness the dam's main plaza, a Deco-style beauty graced with terrazzo floor-embedded celestial diagrams and the twin, 30-foot-high bronze sculptures, the Winged Figures of the Republic (luck seekers take note: rubbing the statues' toes will reputedly bring you good luck). Walking across the top of the dam, take time to admire the beautiful bas-relief panels adorning the elevator towers, and stop in the center at the Arizona-Nevada state line to grab a selfie as you stand in two states at once.

The Hoover Dam Visitor Center is a glass-and-steel building perched on the upper cliffs of Black Canyon; feel free to wander the excellent, upper level exhibits, many of them high-tech, interactive affairs. Once you tire of learning about turbines, transformers and penstocks, step out on the top level's outdoor observation platform for dizzying photo-ops, both of the dam and the downstream Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge . The Original Exhibit Building, built in the 1940s and located across the dam roadway, displays a vintage, raised-relief topographical map of the entire desert Southwest, a must-see for cartography geeks.

For the full, in-depth experience, the guided 30-minute Power Plant Tour begins 537 feet underground and views eight of the 17 commercial generators in the Powerhouse as well as a 30-foot-diameter penstock (pipe) where you can feel the vibration of the water rushing through it.

The Dam Tour is a behind-the-scenes 1-hour guided experience which takes visitors to the top of the dam via an original elevator and then walks them through historic tunnels and inspection tunnels at the center of the dam. Be sure to catch a glimpse of the Colorado River through the inspection ventilation shaft.

Note: Before reaching the dam you'll pass through a vehicle inspection station. Upon entering the visitor center, expect an airport-style security inspection. Food, weapons, knives and oversize backpacks and purses are prohibited; however, bottled water is permitted.

Guided tours are available. Food is available.

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