There's no doubt that from the outside, The Hoover Dam is super impressive-looking... but what most people don't know is that the inside is just as cool. That's because a good chunk of the interior has been closed to visitors since 2001, which is a shame, because the rooms inside the belly of the dam are kind of incredible. The Hoover Dam wasn't built just to be a tourist attraction, naturally. Its main purpose is to staunch flooding, be a source of water for the arid deserts of Nevada, and provide a bit of hydroelectric power via a power station while it was at it. The massive structure took 5 years to build, between 1931 and 1936; the thousands of laborers finished the dam a stunning two years ahead of schedule-- despite the fact that hundreds died under dangerous working conditions and extreme weather.
When it was all said and done, the Hoover Dam is 726 feet tall, and goes from 660 feet wide at the base to a mere 45 feet wide at the top-- and yes, you can still drive across on it, although they've put in some restrictions on the kinds of vehicles that can drive across the top. They also made sure to deck out the power plant and inside rooms-- they even hired famous Western artist Allen Tupper True to design murals and ornamentation for the floors and walls of the interior (some of True's other work can be seen at The Brown Palace Hotel and Huntington Library & Gardens).
Of course, when they closed the inside rooms of the dam, a lot of the gorgeous art deco work was lost-- although some was moved into the visitor center. They do offer some tours of limited sections of the power plant and some of the passageways (keep your eyes peeled for Megatron...anyone? Transformers? Remeber?) The visitor's center sees about a million tourists every year, making it one of the country's most popular attractions. It's no wonder-- you can't even fully comprehend just how massive the dam is until you've seen it in person-- and explored parts of it from the inside!
The Hoover Dam was built in the Black Canyon on the Colorado River, impounding Lake Mead. Lake Mead is the largest reservoir by volume in the US.. when it's full, at least, and it hasn't been full in a few dozen years. It's still an impressive sight to see. If you do some exploring, you can find the remains of the town of St. Thomas, which the reservoir displaced and once covered-- drought and high water demand have revealed what remains. There are a few marinas on the lake, and boating Lake Mead is a unique way to explore the reservoir.
All across Boulder City, there are statues honoring the men who risked their lives to build one of America's greatest engineering marvels: The Hoover Dam. Steve Ligouri is the man behind some of them, like the one depicting the sexiest, most dangerous job one could have while building the monolith: the Dam High Scaler, who dangled in the air, suspended by ropes and armed with jackhammers and dynamite to blast away the canyon walls. The statue is totally badass, but something didn't sit quite right with Ligouri, and when Boulder City began accepting proposals for public art installations, he submitted a proposal to honor another Hoover Dam hero: the man who cleaned the latrines. The city accepted, and Ligouri wasted (lol waste) no time erecting a statue to the unsung hero of the Hoover Dam.
The statue depicts Alabam, the one man who cleaned the latrines for the 7,000 men who worked to build the Hoover Dam. Imagine it: one quirky 70-year-old man cleaning filthy, primitive toilets in 120+ degree weather. I don't know about you, but I'd take high scaling with dynamite any day over that job. Alabam was remembered for being kind of an odd bird, but he always had a good attitude and was proud of his work, even though it wasn't the most glamorous job. The statue was modeled on the only known picture of Alabam, from the 1930's, and is actually made partially out of old copper cable from the dam's construction. The smiling face of the Alabam the Toilet Cleaner Statue, armed with a broom and extra rolls of TP, is one of the first things to greet visitors to town-- a little reminder that building the iconic Hoover Dam was a messy job made a little better by some incredible people.
The town of Boulder City was originally just a camp for those who were working on building the dam; in fact, before it had a name, it was merely referred to as "Rag Town". When it became apparent that enough people would be working on the dam for long enough that a semi-permanent town was needed, the federal government carefully planned and laid Boulder City out. But, unlike most company towns, control of Boulder City was relinquished by the government in 1959, and it was incorporated as a town. The city's Hoover Dam Museum, therefore, is as much a look into Boulder City's history as it is into the dam's history. Even today, the dam is a marvel of engineering, and learning the story of how it got built at this interactive museum is super interesting. You'll peer into the lives of individuals who risked their lives to build the dam!
As US 93 over the Hoover Dam became more of a main thoroughfare, worries began to grow over the fact that the road wasn't made to handle to volume of traffic it was experiencing, so a bypass bridge was planned. The Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge (aka the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge) was opened in 2010. It's the first concrete-steel composite arch bridge built in the United States, holds the title as the second tallest bridge in the country (and is the world's highest concrete arch bridge), and features one of the widest concrete arches in the world. Take the pedestrian walkway across and admire the view of the Hoover Dam along the way.