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Hoover Dam

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Now that we’d seen the outside of the Dam, we were ready to see how it worked from the inside. At the tour gathering point, we were all given yellow “hard hats” and told that we weren’t required to wear them but we had to have them to join the tour (I think it was proof that we’d purchased a tour ticket.)

When the group was fully convened, the tour began. The first part of the tour combined participants on both the 30 minute Power Plant tour and the one hour Hoover Dam tour. Along with two Bureau of Reclamation guides, the two groups crowded into an elevator for the 70-second ride down 530 feet through the rock wall of Black Canyon to a tunnel drilled in the
1930s. There we learned more about how the Dam was constructed and how it operates. One of the guides told us that before construction could start, water from the Colorado River had to be diverted. To reroute the river, workers drilled two 50-foot diameter tunnels on each side of the river. In fact we were standing in a section of one of the tunnels which originally spanned a combined total of about three miles.

After being used for river diversion, portions of the outer tunnels were plugged with concrete and the inner tunnels now contain 30-foot diameter steel pipes or penstocks which connect the intake towers in the Lake Mead reservoir with the powerplant and canyon wall outlet works. The downstream halves of the two outer tunnels are used for spillway outlets.

Through a dark glass wall on one side, we could see a portion of one of the 30-foot pipes. The pipe continued beneath the floor where we were standing and we could feel the rumble of 90,000 gallons of water per second roaring through it and into the hydroelectric generators.

Our next stop was an elevated viewing platform where we saw eight huge turbines that produce electricity. The flooring on the viewing level and b
elow around the turbines was pristine. The guide pointed out the beautiful terrazzo floor in a southwestern design that uses Indian baskets, pottery and sand painting designs. This was the last stop for the Power Plant tour group so one of the guides led them to the elevator and back upstairs to continue their explorations in the Visitor’s Center.

The rest of us took another elevator to the Nevada power plant balcony, walked down a long clean, shiny narrow tiled hallway that ended at an iron grill cover. Through the cover we got another view of the Colorado River and the new bypass bridge. We peered through the cover for a view of the Nevada side powerplant wing. We reversed our course down the hall and followed the guide through one of the many concrete inspection tunnels to a portion of the set of stairs used to climb more than 700 feet from the bottom of the Dam to the top. Temperatures on the lowest levels of the tour were very cool but noticeably warmer as we continued the tour on the higher levels.

At the end of the tour, we piled back into an elevator for our final ride up to the pedestrian walkway above the Dam. From the pedestrian walkway, we had an excellent view of Lake Mead, the largest manmade reservoir in the United States.
Lake Meade at Hoover Dam
After Dam construction was completed, it took 6.5 years to fill the reservoir in order to lessen the pressure change on the newly constructed dam and to help prevent small earthquakes due to land settlement. At 589 feet (181m) at its deepest point, Lake Mead is one of the primary recreation destinations in the southwest and offers boating, fishing, camping, houseboating, waterskiing and swimming. In addition to providing a source of recreation, water from the Lake is used to irrigate farmland and to make life possible in the desert land that borders the Colorado River.

From the pedestrian walkway, we got a closer look at the four concrete steel-reinforced intake towers located in the Lake Mead reservoir on the north side of the dam. Each tower is 395 feet high and controls one-fourth of the water supply for the powerplant turbines.
Winged Figure of the Republic statue
Standing in front of a section of the stark red ochre mountain along the pedestrian walkway is the “Winged Figure of the Republic”. The two 30-foot bronzed statues flank a 142-foot flagpole and sit atop six-foot tall pedestals of gleaming black diorite rock. The statues represent “that eternal vigilance which is the price of liberty.” Nearby is a plaque that commemorates those who conceived the Dam and those who labored to build it. There is also a bronze plaque memorializing the 96 workers who died during Dam construction with an inscription that proclaims “They died to make the desert bloom.”

We didn’t see much evidence of a blooming desert as we drove away from Hoover Dam. However, as we got closer to Las Vegas we could clearly see how the Dam’s water and electricity enabled the people of the American southwest to live comfortably the in the dry desert environment.

Go to this website for more detailed information about the Hoover Dam -

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