Our Dam Trip (Hoover Dam)

“There is no moment of delight in any pilgrimage like the beginning of it” – Charles Dudley Warner

When my husband and I visited Las Vegas for a few days in May, we just had to make a trip to that most famous dam.  We had heard about it all of our lives, read about it, had seen it in movies, and had seen it in documentaries and on news stories.  Since we were so close and had a fun convertible to use, we couldn’t not visit the Hoover Dam.

We got up early that morning, which was easy to do since we were still pretty much on east coast time, looked up our driving directions on Google maps, and headed out to a hearty breakfast to start our day.  As usual, I did my research for restaurants on TripAdvisor, and we settled on an eatery named Mr. Mama’s.  When we arrived, we were seated and then greeted by Mr. Mama himself.  He was very friendly and eager to share favorites from the menu and some history of the restaurant.

Soon our food had arrived and we were not disappointed!  I now wish that I had taken pictures of our food and the restaurant so that I could show you here, but at the time I didn’t know I would be writing a blog about it.  Anyway, we ordered a Cali omelet and a pancake and shared them both and left very satisfied.  The food was delicious!  My husband wanted to come back for breakfast the next day, but our plans didn’t allow it.  Next time, Mr. Mama!

After leaving the restaurant, we headed out to the dam, which was about a 45 minute drive.  We were aiming to get there at 9 a.m., when the dam ticket line opened, so we could get into the first Dam Tour of the day at 9:30 a.m.  Let me pause here a minute to give you some info:  There are two different tours offered – the Dam Tour and the Powerplant Tour.  The Powerplant Tour is less expensive (currently $15 for adults) and just about anybody can participate – no age restrictions or physical ability restrictions.  It lasts about 30 minutes.  The Dam Tour is currently $30 and includes everything in the Powerplant Tour plus passageways down in the dam itself, but is not available to kids under 8 years old or people in wheelchairs or on crutches.  Both include admission to the visitor center.  The Powerplant Tour tickets can be purchased ahead of time but the Dam Tour has to be purchased in person since it is sometimes unavailable.

So back to the story.  We ended up getting to the dam around 9 and parking and walking a little ways to the ticket counter.  When we got to the counter, there were only a few people in line ahead of us, so I thought we would get the 9:30 Dam Tour for sure.  Well, I was wrong!  The first three or four Dam Tours had already filled up and we got into one starting at 10:30.  I was really surprised, but the dam employee told us that there is always a long line of people waiting for the doors to open at 9 a.m.  Those dam tourists!  Geez!  All kidding aside, waiting until 10:30 worked just fine for us because we could walk around the visitor center and see the exhibits and walk outside and look around and take pictures, etc.  Warning – if you wait until after lunch to get your tickets for the Dam Tour, they could be sold out and you may end up not getting in!  You could still likely get a Powerplant Tour, but if your heart is set on the Dam Tour, go early!

We took some pictures outside while we waited:

Concrete walls of Hoover Dam with hills behind
A Close View of the Hoover Dam

It was a beautiful morning and the weather was nice with clear blue skies.

Arch bridge spanning the Colorado River
The Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge next to Hoover Dam

I thought it was crazy how the transmission towers were hanging at such an angle!

After wandering around (or maybe before? it’s been 3 months) and before our Dam Tour began, we gathered with a bunch of other dam visitors in a theater room and watched an informational video about the Hoover Dam.  It was very interesting to hear about how the dam came about and how it was built and how many people died during its construction during the Great Depression.  It was built during a terrible time in our country and men came from all over the USA just to get a paying job, dangerous as it was.  We really don’t realize how easy we have it these days.

So, after the movie, our tour group lined up and got into (packed like sardines into, I should say) a big elevator and rode down to the power plant area.  During this part of the tour, we were mixed with people from the pp tour.

Big room with seven generators and American flag
Power Plant in Hoover Dam

They told us that the Hoover Dam was all about the water.  Several states were arguing over who could use the water from the Colorado River, and they came to an agreement that included the HD.  But a side benefit of the dam is that it supplies electricity to a huge amount of people.  The picture above shows several large generators that capture energy from the flowing water and send electricity out through the transmission lines.

After we left this generator room, our group continued on for the rest of our tour, and the Powerplant Tour people headed out.  There were a few sneaky ones who tried to merge in with our group, but our tour guides would have none of it!  They were constantly counting us as we switched around and knew just how many should be with us.  The offending suspects were quickly ousted and sent on their way!

The rest of the Dam Tour included an elevator ride in a smaller elevator that took us waaaay down into the dam.  As we walked around, our guide entertained us with some humorous and some fascinating stories about the building process.  We also walked down a low and narrow tube to one of the vents in the wall of the dam.  I’ve included some pictures below.

A couple more from inside the dam:

Our guide also told us that if the elevator broke down, he would just wait for it to get fixed, because he wouldn’t be climbing all those dam stairs to get out!  He obviously had no issues with claustrophobia.

After our tour, we visited the road that goes over the top of the Hoover Dam.  Remember that movie called Fools Rush In starring Matthew Perry and Salma Hayek?  If I remember right she was caught in an ambulance on top of the dam and had to deliver her baby there.  For some reason, that scene always comes to mind when I think about this road!  Anyway, traffic is now diverted to a new, really high bridge due to congestion, etc., and I don’t think this road gets much traffic any more.


Road and people walking
Hoover Dam Road

Also, below are pictures of the reservoir.  Looks like the water is pretty low these days!

Water and hills and blue sky
Water level line in reservoir at Hoover Dam
Water, concrete wall, blue sky, and road with people and a truck
A view of the Hoover Dam Road & Reservoir

After we were done touring the dam, we headed up the Lake Mead road to Valley of Fire State Park, which I wrote about in a previous post, A Gem in Nevada.  But first, we decided to stop in Boulder City for a quick and inexpensive bite to eat.  After reading the reviews, we chose to visit The Chicken Shack.  Once again, TripAdvisor didn’t steer us wrong!  We both went with the meal with three chicken fingers, fries, and a drink for $6.99 and neither of us could finish it all.  I was happy to see they served shoestring fries, and the chicken and dipping sauces were delicious.  But don’t expect to visit here and have an elegant dining experience!  True to the name, the building is like a shack, and we were able to snag one of the few inside tables on this hot day.  But I would definitely recommend it if you like good food at a very reasonable price.  Below is a picture of the shack:


I hope you have enjoyed our dam journey!  We really enjoyed learning about and experiencing the Hoover Dam.  If you are ever in the area, go and see it for yourself, you will be glad you did.

Until next time, happy traveling!

Colorful Valley of Fire at sunset

A Gem in Nevada

“Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories” – Ray Bradbury

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary a gem is defined as:  a jewel, (or) a precious or sometimes semiprecious stone cut and polished for ornament, (or) something prized especially for great beauty or perfection.  Any of those definitions can be applied to the subject of today’s discussion – Valley of Fire State Park.

Where, you may ask, is this gem, this jewel, this stone cut and polished for ornament?  And, what is this place, prized especially for great beauty or perfection?  The Valley of Fire, aptly named, is located in Nevada and is an easy hour’s drive from “the strip” in Las Vegas.  It is a true gem, its brilliant colors rising in sharp contrast to the usual drab landscape of this slice of Nevada.

The picture below is the typical view out of the window of your car as you drive away from Las Vegas:

Bleak Nevada desert

As you can see, it is pretty much tan with a little bit of green thrown in.


Pretty drab, right?  But as you drive up to the Valley of Fire, beauty begins to unfold before your eyes. Out of the dull and uninteresting, rock formations of reds and pinks and whites arise:

Road into Valley of fire

Red rock formations in Valley of Fire

You’ve reached the Valley of Fire!

As I was researching and planning our family trip to Utah this year, I also needed to decide how my husband and I could best spend our extra few days ahead of the official group vacation.  We were spending three nights in Vegas, and since we’re not big gamblers, we were looking for other things to do.  My search of the internet, and the forums on TripAdvisor.com, led me to this little gem in the desert.  And I am so glad!

I had planned on us leaving mid-afternoon from Vegas with a picnic supper and spending a few hours at VoF, enjoying the evening and the twilight hours, away from the worst heat of the day.  However, we got a little carried away walking the strip, ogling the fancy hotels and indulging in a huge lunch buffet at the Bellagio.  By the time we got back to our room we were wiped out and had to recuperate for a while, pushing back our leaving for the Valley of Fire.  By the time we got there, we didn’t have time to do everything I wished, including driving around the park, sightseeing, and taking the two trails I hoped to hike.  But, I must say, the hour or two before sunset are a great time to visit VoF.  The setting sun cast beautiful hues of pinks over the red and white rocks, and the skies were a bewitching cascade of color.  The pictures just don’t capture the splendor that the eye sees.  Here are a few of the evening pictures:

Red and white rock formations in Valley of FireRed rock and road in Valley of Fire at duskWoman in silver convertible in Valley of Fire at dusk

By the way, I rented that convertible as a surprise for my husband, because he loves convertibles and we can’t afford to buy one at this stage of life.  I was so excited and kept it a secret until we picked it up.  We got an incredible price on it from the car rental company named Sixt.  It’s a European company that’s new to the states and they offer prices on luxury/specialty cars that compare to standard cars from some of the other companies.  Check them out when you want to rent a special car!

So, back to Valley of Fire . . . here’s another evening picture – it’s kind of dark, but the sky is so pretty:

Sunset and red rock at Valley of Fire

Well, as I mentioned before, we got to the park a little too late to see everything that I had planned, and the park closes at sunset, so we had to leave.  But, thankfully, my husband was a good sport and he agreed to come back the next day after we visited the Hoover Dam.  When we drove away from VoF that first evening, it was a chilly 57 degrees!  Surprising for the last half of May in Nevada, at least for me.  But despite the chill, we rode back with the top down on our rental convertible (with the heat on), and enjoyed every daggone minute!  And the roads from the VoF back to Las Vegas were pretty empty, which made it even better!  It’s no fun to ride in a convertible when you’re surrounded by semi-trucks.  Ha!

The following day we came back in the afternoon, after visiting the Hoover Dam and taking Lakeshore Road (which comes with a big price tag – $20 – the entrance fee for the Lake Mead National Recreation Area) back to the Valley of Fire State Park.  It’s a prettier drive than the other alternative, although it doesn’t compare at all to the VoF itself.

Couple at Valley of Fire State Park sign

When we reached the park this time, it was not 57 degrees!  It was hot!  Whatever cold front that had been visiting the day before was long gone.  And although the park was still beautiful, the colors were not quite the same with the sun blaring down on our heads and the sweat dripping off of everywhere.  But, like I said, still beautiful.  But I am partial to visiting a little later in the day, when the colors are highlighted by the setting sun.

The main reason we came back the second day was so that we could hike to see Fire Wave, a visually stunning rock formation with flowing lines of red and white.  We hiked out and back, a round trip of about 1.5 miles.  And we felt every step in the heat!  Here are some pictures from the hike:

Desert and red rock in Valley of Fire blue skyRed rock formation and blue sky in Valley of Fire State Park

Man taking picture of

See what I mean?  Still beautiful, with contrasting colors of blue sky and red rock, but not quite as lovely as the night before.  And hot.  As we hiked closer to Fire Wave, we began to see the variegated red and white rock:

Red and white rock striations

And, finally, we reached our destination, Fire Wave

Fire Wave rockFire Wave

Long view of

You can see for yourself that Fire Wave is an unusual and magnificent rock formation.  And despite the walk through the sand and the heat, it was worth the trek and the sweat to be able to see it ourselves and take a few photographs.  My only regret is that we didn’t get to see and photograph it in the evening hours.  But who knows, maybe this particular spot is prettier in the daytime?

So, after our second visit to Valley of Fire, with our camera full of pictures and our hearts full of memories, we were ready to get back in the convertible, put the top down, and head back to Vegas.

I hope you have enjoyed our jaunt through the desert to the little gem in Nevada and that you will get the chance to visit Valley of Fire yourself someday.  Until next time, happy traveling!