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The Hoover Dam has often been referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World. If you have flown in from the east or the south, you might have seen it from the air, but nothing can compare to seeing it up close and in person. Built between 1931 - 1935 to harness the flow of the Colorado River, Hoover Dam is primarily responsible for storing the water used by people and agriculture in the desert southwest including Arizona, California, and Nevada. California is entitled to 4,400,000 acre-feet, Arizona 2,800,000 acre-feet, and Nevada, 300,000 acre-feet a year from the river, and the dam stores it for constant release regardless of season. Sitting only 30 miles from the Strip, it is also one of the top Las Vegas tourist attractions for visitors. Visiting the dam is a unique experience! With US 93 running across it, you are completely free to roam on the top of the dam. The view over the edge 550+ feet in the air and down Black Canyon on the Colorado River is worth the trip all by itself. For a $4 admission, the visitor's center contains quite a bit of historical and interesting photos and exhibits.
However, the real fun are the two tours offered. The shorter tour is fine for most. Taking 30 minutes, you go down into the dam and view the generators and are taken at to the base of the dam, where you can peer down the canyon and up toward the top of the towering structure. However, if you have a sense of adventure or are more interested in the technical inner workings, the one-hour Hard Hat tours is a must. You descend into the side of the dam in an elevator cut through the volcanic rock, and after a short walk through a pure rock tunnel, emerge in the generator room. Unlike the short tour, you are taken via another elevator to the floor of the generating area where you stand next to the huge encased turbines.
You are also taken into tunnels where you can see the huge pipes that were buried in the walls of the canyon. A real highlight of this trip is touring the inside of the dam itself, which is lined with two miles of tunnels that serve both for drainage (all dams have a minor amount of seepage inside) and inspection. When looking down over the edge of the dam (and especially looking up from the bottom), you might notice a few vents on the side of the dam. Guess what -- on the hard hat tour you can actually walk to the vent and peer out at the canyon from the inner center of the dam. Truly amazing. The tours is not for the claustrophobic, especially the hard hat tour where you take 10 separate elevator rides with 20 people to each elevator car, and also walk the interior tunnels of the dam which are around 5 feet wide and 7 feet tall.
The visitor center is open from 8:00 AM to 5:45 PM. Tours start at 8:30 AM and run the remainder of the day. Parking on the Nevada side (in the garage) is $3.00. Parking on the Arizona side is free. The Traditional tour is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, and $2 for kids 7 - 16. The Hard Hat tour is $25 and includes a hard hat which you get to keep.