Hoover Dam and a cruise on Lake Mead – facts and myths

When you plan a visit to Las Vegas, try to set aside a few days to explore the surrounding area, because there are many stunning places in the arid state of Nevada. Hoover Dam is one of them, a construction considered a technological wonder of our modern days and one of the principal reasons why Las Vegas developed into the big and luxurious metropolis that it is today.

Hoover Dam – history facts

From Las Vegas, I picked an organized bus tour: Hoover Dam Tour with Lake Mead Cruise for 99 USD, that included a stop at the famous Las Vegas Sign, the Hoover Dam Museum and the power-plant, a cruise on Lake Mead with lunch included (very minimal and not very tasty to be honest) and on the way back a stop to the Ethel M Chocolate Factory (the M&M’s factory).

This was an entire day tour, but it left me with the feeling of being rushed precisely at Hoover Dam. We lost some precious 20-30 minutes in traffic jams and only 2 hours were not enough for the Museum, the Power Plant and then walking on the edge of the Dam. However, the bus driver was very well informed about the history of the places and he shared with us many interesting facts and stories.

Designed to last 2000 years

So this Dam is designed to last over 2000 years and is not completely dried to this day. It’s also the first one to have been built along Colorado river, out of the 5 that exist today. They first called it Boulder Dam  and that’s because it was supposed to be constructed inside Boulder Canyon, but the plan was moved to the Black Canyon, because this area was more stable.

A new town was born: Boulder City, first called The Rag Town

In 1929 the authorities made the announcement that they needed 5.000 workers for building a new Dam. But because this was happening during the depression times when there was a lot of unemployment, 42.000 people from all over the US showed up. Nobody was prepared to accommodate so many and the minimal living conditions were not set up for them: they had to live in barracks or under plain sky. 475 people died because of diseases, malnutrition, dehydration and snake bites and the place took the infamous name of Rag Town.

The workers were only given 2 days off per year: one for Christmas and one on the 4th of July, all the rest being hard labor days. But they finished the Dam 2.5 years earlier, a performance never to be seen again.

Part of the gratitude of the Government was to sell houses for 1USD to the workers that wanted to remain and continue to work on the maintenance of the Dam.

And this is how a new town was born, called Boulder City (after the Boulder Canyon). Gambling and prostitution were always and still are prohibited. For fun and noise and losing all your money you can always go 20 miles away, to Las Vegas:). There are only 12000 inhabitants in Boulder City that want to keep it as clean and quiet as possible. In fact they only allow 2 new buildings per year: one for living and one for business purposes.

A myth: there are bodies stuck inside the concrete walls

Around 100 people lost their lives while working to build Hoover Dam. But there’s a grim belief that continues to intrigue: are bodies buried inside this massive concrete sarcophagus? No, that didn’t happen, people were not left behind when they faced a terrible accident.

Moreover, there were many safety measures invented on this construction site, like the hard hat.

Lake Mead, a cruise with the Desert Princess

After spending 1.5 hours inside the belly of the Dam, I was so excited to get back to natural light and continue the tour with a cruise on Lake Mead. This is the largest man made Lake in USA and 90% of the water in Las Vegas and Boulder City is sourced from here. So if there was no Dam, there was no Lake Mean, no Boulder City and no Las Vegas!

But because of climate change and 12 years of drought, there has been a massive dropping in the level of the water as never seen before. The bus driver was making a joke with us, saying that the famous slogan What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas will probably have to be changed with: Save the water, drink a tequila or Save the water, shower with a friend. But jokes aside this is an alarming situation that the area is dealing with.

The cruise lasted one hour and we sailed on the calm and dark blue water of the lake with The Desert Princess, a paddle boat built in Wisconsin and initially used by the workers.

Visited March, 2018