Walking on Man-made Marvels – Lake Mead, NV

Nevada State LineAs 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.

This guy is in camper heaven!

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.

Historic Railroad Tunnel Trail
The rail bed of the former railroad to Hoover Dam runs along and through these hillsides


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.

Boulder Basin, Lake Mead
Yellow wildflowers dotted the hillsides overlooking Lake Mead

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.

Trains passed through these tunnels during the dam’s construction

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!


Lake Mead National Recreation Area
With the dam completed, workers left and the area where they’d lived became Boulder Beach
Lake Mead Recreation Area
BEFORE – The landscape and the river’s southward path
Lake Mead Recreation Area
AFTER – Lake Mead is up to 500′ deep, WHEN FULL

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!

Intake Valve- Hoover Dam
Intake towers on the Arizona and Nevada sides of the river
Bath tub rings, Hoover Dam
The light-colored “bathtub ring” marks Lake Mead’s historic high water level in 1983
Hoover Dam
Standing 726′ above the dam’s base, on 4,360,000 cubic yards of concrete.  Amazing!

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.

Winged Structures, Hoover Dam
30′ high Winged Figures of the Republic

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!

Mike O'Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge
The highest and longest arched concrete bridge in the western hemisphere

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.

Mike O'Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge
The pedestrian walkway to the bridge consisted of several short switchbacks
Mike O'Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge
An array of interpretive plaques about the project lined the pedestrian entry

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.

Mike O'Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge
Total length of the bridge is 1,905 feet, making it the longest single-arch span in North America
Mike O'Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge
These informative plaques along the span described its construction techniques

The pedestrian walkway provided us with spectacular views of the dam from a new perspective:

Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam as seen from the Arizona side of the bridge
Hoover Dam
Looking down at tourists on the dam
Nevada Arizona Stateline
Two states separated by one step on the bridge walkway
Colorado River Bridge
Where all da cars at?
Mike O'Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge
The two men from Nevada and Arizona for whom the bridge is dedicated

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.

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!






  1. We drove to Vegas for Thanksgiving a few months ago for the very first time, and we also visited Hoover Dam with all of our kids. We didn’t have time to walk across the bridge, though, and I was so disappointed not to do that. We waited in a long line of cars, over an hour, just to get in to park the car at the dam on Black Friday, so that took up the time we had planned to walk on the bridge. I loved seeing all of your photos, especially the ones from the bridge. It is a great place to visit, and our grown kids were very impressed, as it was their first time to visit.

  2. Once again, beautiful pictures MonaLisa of such great masterpieces.
    Kudos on your 5 th year and what a way to start by taking the longest hike yet!

  3. Looks like we missed you in Lake Mead, we just left there a few days ago! There is so much to do in that area we could spend a month or more and never get bored.

  4. It is nice to take the Historical Railroad Tunnel so you can read all the plaques and enjoy the beautiful lake. But for some reason just walking on long gravel path is so much harder than hiking a trail. Walking out on the bridge is so much fun. Love all your great photos:) Hope your feet have healed:)

  5. That is a pretty cool place to hang out, lo, I have some of the same pictures on our blog from there from last year. there is a lot of things to see and do around Lake Mead, always enjoy the stop there.enjoy your posts.

  6. That bridge is amazing. We saw it part way done a few years ago and last year drove over it. Very sad to see such low lake level. When we lived in Vegas in the early nineties, I used to take the kids to the beach and loved it. Hope it fills back up.

  7. Congratulations on starting your 5th year of traveling around this beautiful country. Awesome photos of Hoover Dam. Keep enjoying your freedom and adventures.

  8. That was quite the walk! We would enjoy the tunnels and the bridge — very interesting history. Thanks for the tip about starting at the Visitor Center to cut a few miles off of the trek. What a gorgeous campsite view you have!

  9. Oh, and congratulations on starting your fifth year of travels! You don’t have much more to color in on your travel map. 🙂

  10. Happy Anniversary, looks like a great place to see the sites of Hoover Dam. What a hike you had think I’ll do it from the VC whenever we work our way back there.

  11. The walking trail looks really interesting, but I certainly couldn’t have done 14 miles, you guys are amazingly fit. We stayed at the NPS campground next door last March, it is just lovely there, it’s dry camping which doesn’t worry us. Had no idea about the tunnel trail, or how close we were to the dam, luckily we saw the dam on an earlier trip. Really nice time of year to be there.

  12. I’ve been here before! Weee! 😀
    Excellent captures of the dam. My pictures of Hoover Dam are awful that I couldn’t make a post out of it. And thanks for the clarification on those statues. Now I know that those statues are for me. Bwahahaha 😀

  13. No wonder I remember the lake being more full … that photo of the high water mark in 1983 proves that was the case when we visited. Boy, it sure doesn’t feel like it was that long ago that we visited Hoover Dam. But dates don’t lie.

  14. I don’t know if we could have made it that far. Jim would have probably hitchhiked back to the RV park!
    Didn’t know pedestrians were allowed on the bridge. How fun!

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