Hoover Dam: Visiting & Accessibility

The creation of Hoover Dam, aimed to control the Colorado River, was a monumental engineering accomplishment that set precedent for future large construction projects. Half of the dam is in the state of Nevada and the other is in Arizona. Two clock towers can be seen on the dam with both states current time displayed.

As you approach the parking structure you will see the Mike O’Callaghan—Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, also known as the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge. You can drive on it but the walls are so high that it blocks any view. If you do not have disabled plates then have your placard visible to receive free parking. A number of disabled parking spots are available near the elevator.

A paved pathway leads from the ground parking level to Hoover Dam promenade. A sign directs people unable to use the escalator to the elevator to the Visitor Center. Here is the starting point for the Powerplant Tour, the only wheelchair friendly tour, which lasts about a half hour and requires an admission fee. This tour begins with a movie screening. Five open spaces with companion seats are on the bottom level of the theater; sub-titles are incorporated into the movie.

Being a tour guide almost most anywhere requires a loud, take-charge kind of attitude. Luckily, you’ll likely find this at the Hoover Dam too. Tours are crowded with people so it helps to have an aggressive tour guide leader that will ensure that those with a disability will be able to see and hear everything. The Powerplant Tour requires use of an elevator and the tour guide flawlessly led me on and off first. The main attraction to this tour is viewing one of the rooms with several large generators. These Hoover Dam generators, powered by turbines, produce enough energy to serve 1.3 million people yearly. The energy produced by the generators enabled the repayment of the $165 million original building costs with interest to the Federal Treasury and also pays for the internal maintenance and operational expenses for the dam.

The exhibit level of the Visitors Center has information, audio, pictures, and models of the Hoover Dam and its surroundings. The observation deck of the Visitors Center has less information but offers a great view. An accessible restroom is also found the Visitor Center as well as right outside the parking structure. Across from the Visitors Center are large bronze statues named the “Winged Figures of the Republic,” and a ramp on the right side allows for a closer look. Behind the statues is the Old Exhibit Building that is now used to educate visitors about the Colorado River and the dams and reservoirs coinciding with it.

You can also get a view of Lake Mead by the Old Exhibit but the rest of the paved walkway on this side of the dam is not wheelchair friendly due to no curb-cutouts or ramps. However, the opposite side is accessible and includes shaded overhangs and small balconies to view the bridge and the Hoover Dam. This stroll can be overwhelming hot for some visitors, especially during the warmer months, so be prepared. This is the desert.

As a child my family had once planned to visit the Hoover Dam, but we never made it, and I am happy this is so as now as an adult I can truly appreciate what went into building this colossal engineering marvel.

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