The Hoover Dam is an awe-inspiring site. It is impossibly large, surprisingly beautiful, and impeccably built over just five years in the 1930s. The dam is a worth-while place to visit all on its own, but it also happens to be home to a perfectly preserved example of a 1930’s era visitor’s center presentation.
Today, the compulsory tour package includes a short film loaded with smooth graphics, and a visit to an exhibit full of sometimes interesting but often silly digital interactive displays and games. The tour of the facility and the observation deck are great, and likely have changed very little in the last 80 years, but the visitor’s center certainly has.
Happily, the Old Exhibit building (originally used as a headquarters for soldiers protecting the dam during World War II) has been preserved and recently restored. To the right of the stunning “Winged Figures of the Republic” statues, this simple building is oft passed over by hot and tired tourists, unaware of the charming (and air-conditioned) display within.
Through the lobby, a small interior room is packed with old wooden theater seats arranged stadium style, and directed at a huge topographical map model of a number of southwestern states. Major cities, geological spots, and various dams and reservoirs along the Colorado are meticulously labeled, and places like the Grand Canyon or the Valley of Fire are lovingly depicted in the diorama.
The overheads dim, and the map lights up. A rather dry but pleasant voice-over pipes through the speakers, and proceeds to tell about all of the places that the Hoover Dam has benefited, the map lighting up each place as it is mentioned. Our guide also goes into great detail on every major dam in the area, making this a special treat for dam nerds.
Know Before You Go
If you continue walking toward Lake Mead from the Winged Figures plaza, around the corner, you will see the Old Exhibit Building.