Science — and art — of Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam spans the Colorado River between Nevada and Arizona.

Hoover Dam spans the Colorado River between Nevada and Arizona.

A tribute to the High Scaler, the worker with one of the most dangerous jobs on the Hoover Dam project. Sculptor Steven Liguori  created the statue.

A tribute to the High Scaler, the worker with one of the most dangerous jobs on the Hoover Dam project. Sculptor Steven Liguori created the statue.

Tour guides at the Hoover Dam toss around massive numbers. It’s more than 700 feet high. It’s millions of pounds of concrete. Some 5,000 men worked on it (most of them making about $4 a day) during its 4 years of construction — and it finished two years ahead of schedule.

The first thing I thought? Thank goodness it was built during the Art Deco period. Sure, it’s an engineering marvel. You might even call it a monument to human ingenuity, vision, industry, hubris.

It’s a work of art.

From the monuments to the workers (and their dog), some of whom

A memorial to a lost friend.

A memorial to a lost friend.

died working here, to the decoration on the intake towers, you’ll see not just a dam. Even the floors and elevators were built with style.

On my recent visit to the Hoover Dam, I took a tour that gave me a chance to walk over it, float at its base (well, as close as you’re allowed to go) and and go inside it. The visitor center displays exhibits about the construction and engineering of the dam, along with a bit of science. I still don’t understand the miracle of electricity but I’m a bit more informed now.

Hoover Dam is only one of the dams holding back the power of the Colorado River.

Hoover Dam is only one of the dams holding back the power of the Colorado River.

If you have an extra few minutes, stop in the old visitor center for a look at the hand-painted model of the Colorado River Basin with the Hoover and other dams.

The view looking down the concrete wall of Hoover Dam.

The view looking down the concrete wall of Hoover Dam.

No doubt about it, Hoover Dam is massive. I couldn’t help but be awed by the amount of concrete that create this gigantic wall, and the gallons of water being held back — forming the 156,800-acre Lake Mead. The thing weighs 6.6 million tons. Here’s a factoid I heard twice. There’s enough concrete to pave a sidewalk all the way around the equator. Impressive but it still doesn’t help me grasp what I’m looking at.

On the Arizona tide, the Intake Tower clock says "Arizona Time."

On the Arizona tide, the Intake Tower clock says “Arizona Time.”

Hoover Dam is also pretty. Get beyond that incredible wall of cement and take a look at the decoration on the intake towers. Or stop to marvel at the tile work on the floor or the fanciful band above the elevator.

What a fanciful floor for a power plant.

What a fanciful floor for a power plant.

I discovered after I left I saw only a fraction of the artwork. But what I saw certainly pleased my Art Deco-loving eye.

© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman

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