As we crossed the state line into Nevada, we had officially started the 5th year of our journey – we were excited! Nevada has many excellent things to offer besides “Sin City”, one of them being the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Mind you, we have since discovered several other natural gems in this state, and some of them will be detailed in future posts. But for now let’s talk about a couple of human creations.
The construction of Hoover Dam, completed in 1935, harnessed the Colorado River and created two lakes – expansive Lake Mead and Lake Mohave. These lakes and the vast rugged desert land surrounding them became Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the first one in the United States. Our campsite at Lake Mead RV Village was within this recreation area and featured a commanding view of the lake and surrounding mountains.
The nearby Historic Railroad Tunnel Trail is a national recreation trail that follows the route trains took while hauling supplies to build Hoover Dam in the early 1930’s. We were eager to take an early morning walk on this very popular easy and flat gravel trail.
The trail by itself would have been only 4.4 miles round trip, but we started from our campground and continued on to Hoover Dam. And since by then we were close to the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, we added a walk across its span to really rachet up the miles.
The journey was more than we’re used to, and ended 14.1 miles later with sore legs and foot blisters. If we were to do it again we’d start from the trailhead at the visitor center, which would cut almost 5 miles off the trek.
We passed through five tunnels leading to Hoover Dam. They were all 25′ in diameter, oversized to allow huge penstock sections and large equipment to be transported on the railcars.
Along the way, plaques displayed what life was like during construction of the dam, and the hardships that the worker’s families endured. These were some extremely tough and resilient folks!
We continued a couple more miles to walk on two modern marvels. First, Hoover Dam, which is considered one of the exceptional engineering achievements of the 20th century.
Several walking tours are offered there, and we highly recommend them to all visitors. We opted out this time, as we had taken one during a visit several years ago. We also skipped the visitor center this time, as a courtesy to other folks who probably wouldn’t have wanted to smell our sweaty bodies after all that walking!
The art at the dam’s Monument Plaza, including Winged Figures of the Republic, was created with a message. The artist believed that the orientation of many ancient structures included messages from their creators to people of the future. Oskar JW Hansen designed the art here with that in mind. For descriptions and meanings click here.
Click here for stories and essays about the dam itself.
Satisfied that nothing major at the dam (except the very low water level) had changed since our last visit, we headed for the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. Now this was something we hadn’t seen before!
The bridge is perched 890′ above the turquoise Colorado River, and wedged between the rocky cliffs of Nevada and Arizona. It was constructed to re-route most traffic off the narrow and busy two-lane road atop the dam.
If you have a fear of heights this may not be your kind of experience. We learned that eight people have jumped to their death since the opening in October 2010.
The pedestrian walkway provided us with spectacular views of the dam from a new perspective:
The walk from the bridge entry to the far end of the span is 1.3 miles, and there’s no exit on the Arizona end. After walking across and back we were more than ready to head home.
Back on the trail we cooled off a bit while walking through the tunnels again, and took a break to enjoy the panorama of Lake Mead.
It was a long day of learning many superlatives about these man-made marvels; Hoover Dam as a great American technological achievement, the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge supported by the longest arch in the western hemisphere, and Lake Mead as the largest reservoir in the U.S. (when full).
And for us personally, it was the longest walk we’ve taken since starting our adventure.
What a day it was!