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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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