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Page added on January 21, 2011

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The Mystique of Hoover Dam

by: Mark and Marietta Dutkoski

It may have been more than half a century  since Hover Dam was built from  Colorado Rivers, but none the less, people’s fascination  appears to have no end on this awe- inspiring human achievement.

Just like millions of visitors every year, we were lured  by this man-made wonder and had to pay a visit since we had extra time on our hands while in Las Vegas for the New Year. Hoover Dam is only 30 – 45 minutes from Las Vegas,   in Boulder City, Nevada. One afternoon is all that is needed to walk around the site, and take a tour.

Just like the anticipation on movies, our excitement  grew bigger as we approach the magnificence of the dam.  We took our time and became fascinated by the magnitude of the dam as well the  mighty engineering  behind it.

The surrounding landscape is mostly desert, with boulders and large hills creating a yellow/orange hue, broken by the various forms of cacti and other desert scrub. The setting of desert and man made mega project has attracted many movie producers who are tempted to utilize this for a movie set. Over a million visitors tour the dam each year.

Of course, we didn’t miss the chance  to take photos at every opportunity, and included in our backdrops  were the newly built bridge,  the  power plant emblem, the  story of the birth of man-made  Lake Mead and of course those 96 people who sacrificed their lives while the dam was being built.  After taking a good walk on top  of the half-dome shape bridge/dam structure, it didn’t miss our sights to notice the one- hour difference of  Nevada and Arizona time  clocks  which were only a few steps away from each other being in the interstate border and taking two different standard time zones: Pacific  and Mountain, respectively.

There are three choices of tours, and we decided upon an excursion  of the power plant and away we went into the deep base of the dam, so that we could see the massive generators. Of course we had to go through an airport style security check before embarking on our tour, and there were signs reminding us that weapons were not permitted in the dam.  Before we headed to the pit of the plant, we watched a  5-minute movie clip narrating the power plant in the making, its challenges, sacrifices, ingenuity,  engineering break through  and the mighty minds behind the construction.

Before Hoover Dam was built, the Colorado River would flood the low lying farmlands in the spring from the melting snow, then reduce to a trickle in late summer and early fall. Therefore, the idea for a large dam to harness and control the riches of the river was conceived. Before construction began, the 7 states which received water from the Colorado River had to agree on how to divide the water. The Colorado River Compact was signed in 1922, and in 1928, US Congress passed the Boulder Canyon Project Act which authorized the building of the dam.

The scale of the undertaking was so large, that a city was constructed to house the thousands of labourers required to complete the construction project. Boulder City was thus constructed in 1931, in the midst of the great depression, to be a “model” city to which the American people could look for hope for a better future. Today, Boulder City has approximately 15,000 citizens.

The dam created Lake Mead which is America’s largest man made lake. It holds 9.2 trillion gallons of water, which is the equivalent of two years of the river’s average flow. It meets the water needs of 20 million people, and provides irrigation for more than one million acres of land. It was named for the Reclamation Commissioner, Dr. Elwood Mead.

There is a very touching memorial dedicated to the many workers who died during the construction of the dam. Safety practices were not nearly as stringent in the 1930’s as they are today.

Hoover Dam was dedicated by President Roosevelt in 1935, but the name “Hoover Dam” was not made official until Congress made the name permanent in 1947. It was sometimes referred to as Boulder Dam.

Seeing the occasional structural support in the hallways of the interior would have been a confidence builder, but such was not the case! So we ventured under the millions of pounds of concrete and  water, to eventually see the enormous turbines. One of them was disassembled for maintenance, revealing the large series of magnets surrounding the massive central spindle. This is definitely not the type of object you would want to have fall on your foot! The first generator began operation in 1936, and the 17th (and final) one went into operation in 1961. The construction of the dam occurred between 1931 and 1935, and was finished 2 years ahead of schedule, and well below budget. Taxpayer money was never used. Instead, the project was funded from the sale of electricity, and continues to be financially self reliant to this day!

At present, Hoover Dam serves for flood control, hydro electric power production, irrigation and meeting  the water needs of more than 20 million people in in the cities of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Tucson, and other southwestern cities  and towns and Indian communities in three states: Arizona, Nevada and California.

The dam is a National Historic Landmark, National HIstoric Civil Engineering Landmark, and one of America’s Seven Modern Civil Engineering Wonders. In 1999, it was named the number 5 construction achievement of the 20th century. It is very satisfying to know that visiting Hoover Dam took  one less from  of our bucket list of things to see!









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