What Happened To Hoover Dam? And Where’s The Colorado River?
Most people crossing the Colorado River on U.S. 93 in a passenger car don’t even realize they are passing over the Colorado River, or that they are only a few hundred yards from Hoover Dam.
One might expect that a bridge crossing the Colorado River at Hoover Dam would give you a great view of both.
Driving across the new Hoover Dam Bridge in your car, though, you wouldn’t even know Hoover Dam was there.
Yes, I know… the official name is the ‘Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge’.
The reality is, the official name is a little long and maybe too difficult for many folks to remember.
Plus, there are three unofficial, (although more generic) names that are simple and very easy remember.
Here are the names people actually use as they speak about the new bridge over the Colorado River:
- Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge
- Hoover Dam Bridge
- The Dam Bridge
So with sincere apologies, and meaning no disrespect to the memories of these fine men, from this point on when I mention Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge, Hoover Dam Bridge, or just the Dam Bridge, I am referring to the ‘Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge’.
The designers and engineers of the new Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge put in tall concrete crash barriers that completely block these views from motorists on the bridge. They didn’t want sight-seers and ‘rubber-neckers’ to slow down while crossing the bridge.
Or worse, for motorists to stop on the bridge to take Hoover Dam pictures; the view is so remarkable, it would be easy to imagine the new bridge with such fantastic views could turn into a parking lot, and that was unacceptable.
The high walls also provide another, important safety feature: they block some of the high wind that funnels through Black Canyon.
Wind from the Mojave Desert blows through Black Canyon every day, and often the winds are strong enough to be a problem for vehicles with high profiles, like trucks, buses, and motor-homes.
The walls are a sturdy barrier that effectively reduce wind on the trucks that cross the bridge.
So, the Hoover Dam Bridge design included higher-than-normal side-walls that block the view of Hoover Dam from the highway, but the designers came up with a much better way to see Hoover Dam:
A pedestrian walkway on Hoover Dam Bridge gives visitors safe and absolutely stunning views.
And from this walkway along the east side of the Hoover Dam Bridge there are vistas that cause you to catch your breath and pause in wonder of the Hoover Dam Project.
Visitors to the Dam Bridge must take US Highway 93 (North from Kingman, Arizona; South from Las Vegas) to Nevada Exit 2. You’ll drive up the winding road that brought workers everyday to the Hoover Dam Site in the 1930’s. After passing through the security checkpoint, you’ll pass underneath the new roadway that leads to the bridge, and just around the bend on the right is the parking lot for the bridge walkway.
From the parking lot, you can reach the bridge by walking up 70 steps or a series of ramps built for wheelchairs. At the top, there are three rest areas, with concrete benches and etched panels that describe the building of the bridge and other topics. (Video – Hoover Dam Bridge – Walkway Access, Wheelchair Access for your Hoover Dam Tour)
Following the path through the rest areas you’ll come to the walkway.
The walkway is 900 feet above the Colorado River, high enough that it takes nearly 8 seconds for a pebble to fall into the water – if the wind doesn’t blow it sideways.
A shoulder-high railing made of large diameter steel tube has a very calming effect on most people who are afraid of heights.
Despite the railing, there are a few fearless tourists who lean out over the rail of the Dam Bridge to get that special, memorable Hoover Dam picture.
Hoover Dam looks more impressive, more imposing from this viewpoint than any other, except for the view from the Observation Deck at the Visitor Center.
It only takes seven or eight minutes at a brisk pace to walk the entire length of the bridge, from Nevada to Arizona and back. Even though it only takes a few minutes to get to the middle of the bridge, the views and photo opportunities can easily turn this into a half-hour stroll.
There are brass plaques along the way that describe key facts about the bridge or how construction crews accomplished various phases of work. A brass medallion commemorates Tillman and O’Callaghan. One marks the center of the arch, and another marks the state line – the Colorado River is the border between Arizona and Nevada.
In addition to a unique look at Hoover Dam, visitors will get a fuller appreciation of how much water remains in Lake Mead, clearly indicated by the ‘bath-tub-ring’ of mineral deposits showing the high-water mark.
Enjoy your time out on the Hoover Dam Bridge. Feel the Mojave Desert wind as it rushes through Black Canyon. Absorb some of that good energy around you, take in the colors of the mountains, the blues of the sky and Lake Mead, the blue-green water of the Colorado River.
Slow down a little, stop for a moment of reflection and wonder at everything in front of you. The few moments you spend over the Colorado River at Black Canyon will be unforgettable.
Latest posts by Martin McUber, Las Vegas Tour Guide
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