Walking on Man-made Marvels – Lake Mead, NV

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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!


Next up:  Zip – Float – Hike – Yay!