Hot Dam! Nevada Beyond Vegas

Tuesday Aug 18, 2015
Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam  

Las Vegas is a must-see destination, luring visitors from around the world with its bright lights, gambling and flamboyant shows.

But even the most die-hard revelers can get worn out from the never-ending party on The Strip.

Two of the top destinations for Vegas visitors who need a break from the action are just 30 minutes to the southeast at the Arizona-Nevada state line: Hoover Dam and Lake Mead.

A rundown of what you'll see at these popular tourist destinations:

Built between 1931-36, Hoover Dam is an architectural marvel, considered one of America's seven modern civil engineering wonders.

The dam spans 1,244 feet (379 meters) across Black Canyon and rises 726 feet (221 meters) from the Colorado River.

But like the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls, Hoover Dam is a sight - albeit man-made - where descriptions or pictures don't do it justice; it's something that has to be seen to truly appreciated.

The view from the road is unimpressive, but once you look over the edge to the sliver of river below, expect your breath to be taken away. The view from the O'Callaghan-Tillman Memorial Bridge above the dam - accessed from a parking lot on the road to Hoover Dam - also is spectacular and looking back toward the deep blue water of Lake Mead isn't bad, either.

The visitor center offers interesting details about the dam's history, but to get a true appreciation, take the tour to see the inner workings.

A quick warning: The large elevator can be crowded and there are warnings about claustrophobia. The trip is short, though, and the friendly guides tend to ease the tension during the 530-foot (161-meter) ride down.

The 30-minute guided power plant tour includes viewing the 30-foot (9-meter) penstock pipes, which control the flow of water, along with massive generators and access to the visitor center. The hour-long dam tour has the same elements, but visitors also get to explore the various tunnels throughout the dam and peer out the air vents facing the downstream face.

Tickets: Dam tour, $30 (no one under 8 permitted, not accessible for wheelchairs). Power plant tour, $15 adults, $12 children 4-12. Visitor center, $10.

Parking: $10 in the parking garage, but there are free spots across the dam if you're up for a short walk.

Hours: Visitor center is open 9 a.m.- 5 p.m., tickets must be purchased by 4:15 p.m. Last dam tour is at 3:30 p.m., last power plant tour is at 3:55 p.m. Open daily except Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Hoover Dam  (Source:AP Photo/John Marshall)

At full capacity, Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the United States. It hasn't been at capacity in decades, though, with water levels dropping more than 60 percent due to drought conditions in the Southwest.

Even with low levels, Lake Mead is still one of the largest man-made lakes in the country - and there's plenty to do.

"Once you get to the water, nothing has changed," said Kevin Turner, Interpretation and Education Operations Chief at Lake Mead National Recreation area.

"The water is still just as fun to be in and there's a lot of it out there. Even though we're down, it's still a huge reservoir. It's not like a trickle of water out there."

During the summer, the main attraction is the water: Boating, water skiing, jet skiing, swimming, fishing, house boating.

A warning here, too: This is the desert, so it gets very hot during the summer. Park rangers urge people not to hike after 8 a.m. and to bring along plenty of drinking water.

The lake has nine developed areas, though the boat ramps at Las Vegas Bay, Government Wash and Overton Beach are closed due to low water levels. Las Vegas Boat Harbor, Callville Bay Resort and Temple Bar Resort & Marina have boat rentals, stores and restaurants.

The park has nine wilderness areas and numerous campgrounds dotting the shoreline, including some that back right up to the water.

Though most of the nearly 7 million visitors to Lake Mead come during the summer, other times of year offer activities like hiking, biking, off-roading, camping and fishing.

The low water levels have revealed new beaches and coves, along with a few new sights, including the ruins of St. Thomas, an Old West town that previously had been submerged. Divers also can see the remnants of a B-29 Superfortress that crashed into the lake in 1948.

Fees: Cars, $10 for a week. Camping $15 per night. Boat launch, $16 per vessel for a week.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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