When you head to Las Vegas, Nevada your first thought is probably going to be about the dazzling lights and sounds associated with the casinos and the infamous Vegas Strip. Of course that is part of going to Vegas but I would urge you to think outside the box for a moment when you first arrive at McCarron International Airport in Vegas and consider heading East to Boulder City, home of the Hoover Dam.
Aside from this being an amazing piece of infrastructure, you have the ability to stand not only in two states (Nevada and Arizona) at the same time but also two different time zones (Pacific and Mountain). This in itself is pretty cool and I can only imagine how difficult this would be to adjust to if you lived in Vegas and then drove to say Kingman, AZ on a daily basis.
The Hoover Dam – Nevada Side
Approaching the Hoover Dam from Vegas, your first obstacle to overcome after driving through Boulder City is to get through the security checkpoint. Fortunately our experience was seamless and we were waived through (I guess we should take that as if we don’t look suspicious, so that’s a positive!) without having to be thoroughly searched. There are several exits along the way as you drop down into the canyon to the Hoover Dam that you can get out and take some excellent shots of Lake Mead and surrounding area. One of the really cool views was on the side of the mountains where the trains used to run through, the old disused tunnels are now available for hikers to walk through and explore. You can also access the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge which is the central portion of the Hoover Dam Bypass Project and crosses over the width of the Colorado River, extending from the Arizona side back to Nevada.
As you drop down to the actual location of the Hoover Dam, you are presented with the option of parking in the ‘official’ parking garage for $10 which despite it’s apparent excellent location is rather misleading and I would recommend continuing across the Dam, into Arizona and parking on one of the several parking lots on the side of the road which are FREE. The main visitor center offers a wide variety of souvenirs and also encompasses a cafe for anyone wanting to grab a bite to eat.
The Hoover Dam – Arizona Side
Crossing the Nevada-Arizona State line half way across the Hoover Dam, you enter Mountain Time Zone. As I just mentioned, parking on this side is for the most part free and highly recommended. If you follow the scenic drive to the summit of the canyon, there is a quaint little gift shop offering Hoover Dam souvenirs but given that you can’t go any further into Arizona on this route, you are required to turn around and head back down towards Nevada. Beware though that the prices in this Arizona store tend to be a little higher than the official visitor center which may be surprising but maybe it’s because each store is located in a different state.
Parking in one of the spots on this side and then wandering back down to the main Hoover Dam feature is a worthwhile experience and you then have the decision to make whether you want to participate in one of the Dam tours available to you. The two main tours include the cheaper Powerplant tour option which is only $15 per person and the more expensive Hoover Dam tour which is a fairly steep $30 per person. We opted against either of these tours as we felt we experienced the dam sufficiently from the outside without having to explore the interior. I am sure it is a worthwhile experience if you decide to do either of these tours.
Frequently driving up and down the canyon is the comically named, ‘Dam Bus’ but appropriate for the location of course! Tourists from all sides of the globe venture here to see the magnificent design of the Hoover Dam, it really is a spectacular piece of human manufacturing that clearly has benefits to the local areas along the Colorado River.
The Memorial Bridge
The first thing to say about the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge is that it really is a spectacular sight from the Hoover Dam itself and also when you are physically on the bridge. Spanning across the Colorado River, this arch bridge measures over 1200ft and has a similar elevation at the crest of the bridge with the river flowing beneath. A warning for anyone with a fear of heights that walking across this bridge may not be for you but I have to admit it’s a really cool experience. As you leave the Hoover Dam area, you can park near the top and then walk up a series of steps that depict the history of the construction of the Memorial Bridge.
As you cross the bridge, you have some really amazing views of the canyon and Hoover Dam. There is a plate secured in the bridge floor indicating the state line, without doubt a popular spot for tourists to get that perfect shot.
The overall experience at the Hoover Dam is awesome. I would highly recommend anyone taking an afternoon out of their trip to Las Vegas to head beyond Boulder City to see this because the construction, innovation and overall design is a must-see to really appreciate the magnitude of this dam and Memorial Bridge. Plus you get the added incentive of being able to tell your friends and family that you ‘stood in two states at the same time’ and even better ‘two different time zones’.