Why The Hoover Dam Was Built & How It Mastered the Famous Colorado River!
In the Black Canyon of the Colorado River lies one of the most popular tourist attractions in the United States. It is the Hoover Dam, a $49 million concrete structure that is 726 feet tall, 1,244 feet long and 660 feet wide at the base. This major tourist site boasts over a million visitors each year.
How Hoover Dam Got Its Name
Construction began in the early 1930′s after years of investigation into where the structure should go. Choices were Boulder Canyon and Black Canyon, both on the Colorado River. The site was originally in Boulder Canyon and was called the Boulder Canyon Project. It later moved to Black Canyon after engineering tests showed it to be more appropriate. The name remained Boulder Dam until it became Hoover Dam upon after being dedicated to Herbert Hoover, the 31st president of the United States.
Construction of the dam took place during the Great Depression, providing jobs for thousands unemployed workers. Boulder City, Nevada, a town 25 miles southeast of Las Vegas was built to house the workers. Planners expected to make the town one of the west’s premier places to live. Then came the stock market crash of 1929, which slashed federal funding and turned the place destitute.
Diverting the Colorado River
Before one shovel or pick axe could be lifted, The Colorado River had to be diverted from it’s natural course through Black Canyon. This was achieved by building a miraculous system of tunnels, two on the Nevada side of the river and two on the Arizona side. Upon completion, the diameter of each tunnel was 56 feet and their combined length 16,000 feet. Structures called cofferdams were also built to contain the river in the event it broke free and flooded the jobsite.
100 Brave Men Perished
The private company that initially won the bid for the job found it to be a bit more than they could handle and ended up giving the contract over to the Federal Government. The dam was completed two years ahead of schedule. President Franklin Roosevelt memorialized its completion in 1935 during a ceremony attended by more than 10,000 people. First to get credit were the more than 100 men who perished during its construction due to rockslides and heat.
Turning the River Into Power
Why was the Hoover Dam built? One reason was to prevent downstream flooding as farmers began cultivating the Colorado River and towns sprung up along it’s fertile banks. The other was hydroelectric power: Today, the dam’s generators create more than 4 billion kilowatts of power that is consumed by 15 western states and municipalities including Arizona, Nevada and California.
In response to the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Towers, high-alert security was deployed across the highway that used the top of the dam to cross over the Colorado River. Simultaneously, plans were unveiled to build the Hoover Dam Bridge. This spectacular bypass was completed in 2010 and has earned its place among the world’s greatest bridges. Today, no vehicle traffic is permitted on the dam – only pedestrians are allowed.
Hoover Dam Tours
The Hoover Dam is a major attraction. Tours have been available to walk the site since 1937, with a brief closure during the Second World War. Guided bus, helicopter and airplane tours are available from Las Vegas. Here’s a list of links to the most popular trips:
There’s also a fantastic Las Vegas helicopter package that includes a smooth-water rafting tour. This trip starts with a helicopter landing at the bottom of the West Rim and then concludes with an 11-mile, no-rapids float tour down the Colorado River to Willow Beach. It’s a great trip for families and kids four years of age can do it because there’s no whitewater…
See you at the dam!