BOULDER CITY, Nevada — The road down to the bottom of Black Canyon can be a bit disconcerting at times.
Winding and bumpy, for a moment it almost seems as though you are driving off the edge of the Earth.
The dirt roadway was built roughly 80 years ago for workers who were then constructing the world’s largest concrete dam. The Boulder Dam — today the Hoover Dam — took five years to build and is as impressive today as it was when it was completed in 1936.
The best way to experience the 726.4-foot-tall dam is from the Colorado River where visitors can look up in wonderment at the structure and ponder the level of human ingenuity needed to design the dam, then the fortitude to actually build it.
Built at a cost of $49 million — or $821 million with inflation — the dam stops the Colorado River to create Lake Mead, itself a popular attraction. It has been open to visitors since 1937, and today, roughly 1 million people visit annually; the busy season falls between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Located roughly 35 miles east of Las Vegas, the Hoover Dam is an easy — and worthwhile — day trip from Sin City. A number of tour groups offer sightseeing excursions from Vegas hotels for those travelers who don’t have access to a vehicle.
Once at the dam, managed by the Bureau of Reclamation, there is a visitor’s center, several overlooks that allow visitors to peer straight down and the “Best Dam Store in the West” that offers a myriad of souvenirs. But, the real treat is housed inside the dam: the turbines used to power Vegas and large portions of the Southwest.
U.S. Highway 93 ran atop the dam until the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, also known as the Hoover Dam Bypass, opened in October 2010. The bridge was expedited after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and is an impressive structure in its own right.
The nearby town of Boulder City traces its origins to the start of construction on the dam when families looking for work moved west. Be aware, however, it is the only Nevada city where gambling is illegal.