2012 – USA – “The Train that built a Dam”

Walking near Las Vegas

One of the big attractions near Las Vegas is the Hoover Dam.  The dam and the large body of water that it impounds, Lake Mead, are on the itineraries of many people visiting southern Nevada.

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The Dam (from the Bridge)

The dam sits in Black Canyon on the Colorado River and was constructed between 1931 and 1936. It provided work for many of those who had been affected by the depression.  It was originally named Boulder Dam but it was renamed in honour of President Herbert Hoover in 1947.


The dam is well worth a visit and there is an interesting visitor centre close by to explain how the structure was built and how it works.  Having being constructed in the 1930s the dam also has some noticeable Art Deco features. In my opinion they add a lot to its beauty.


The dam sits right on the border of Arizona and Nevada. Depending on the time of year there is a time difference between the two states.  Until 2010 the busy route US93 crossed the dam but it has now been rerouted to cross a new bridge.

The materials to build the dam were all brought to the site by a railway constructed specifically for the purpose.  The line was opened in 1930 just before construction began and it linked Boulder City, the settlement created for the workers, with the dam site. It also provided access to the main cement mixing facility and the quarries that provided gravel for the concrete.  Building the line was quite a major job in itself and it needed 5 tunnels to get it up to the dam.

Information at Visitor Centre

The track of this railway has long since been removed, but the route through the tunnels is now a popular walking and cycling trail.   On a trip to Nevada in April 2012 I spent a day exploring the area and doing the walk.

The trail starts just off US93 at the Lake Mead Visitor Centre and I saw it clearly as I headed down from Boulder City.   There was a parking lot at the trail head.

Map at Visitor Centre

It was about 4 miles from there walking through the tunnels to the dam. It was an easy walk on the flat and the surface was smooth gravel.   It was quite busy although there seemed to be more cyclists than walkers.

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The tunnels were quite cool (in both senses of the word) to walk through and the scenery changed a bit along the walk.

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The trail ended at the dam visitor centre car park.  Before heading back the same way, I climbed up towards the new bridge and went half way across it for a stunning view of the dam below.  The bridge is the largest single arched bridge in North America.

The Bridge From the Dam

I made my way back through the five tunnels to the Lake Mead visitor centre. At that point I had completed about 9 miles and I still felt like a more of a walk.

I set out on the adjacent River Mountains Loop Trail which runs for more than 35 miles on a loop around the mountains separating Lake Mead from Las Vegas.

Map in the Visitor Centre

I headed north, or counter clockwise, on the loop. The trail was about 12 foot wide and it was paved so it made for a little uncomfortable walking.

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The scenery was outstanding though and it was made a bit more special by the fact I met no one the whole time. The area is famous for longhorn sheep and they also appear on the route marking signs. I managed to spot a couple.

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I walked for about 8 miles and then turned back to the car park to complete a full 25 miles for the day.

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As I returned to the hotel I was pleased with my efforts. I was about to learn an important lesson though.  Although It had been a bright sunny day, the temperature had been very mild and probably less than 20 degrees.  I had applied a little sun screen treatment, but the lower temperature had probably led me into a false sense of security.   When I got back I found that I was terribly sunburnt and I spent the next few days in a fair bit of pain.

“Only mad sheep and Englishmen go around Lake Mead in the midday sun.”

Nevada Southern Railway

Although the railway up to the dam is long gone, the line that linked Boulder City to Las Vegas and the outside world still remains.


It is possible to visit the Nevada Southern Railway / Nevada State Railroad Museum located just outside Boulder City and even ride on a small section of it.


The museum features a small collection of historic steam and diesel locomotives.




On weekends the museum runs a train formed of historic Pullman coaches a few miles down the track towards Railroad Pass on the line to Las Vegas.



The round trip takes about 45 minutes, the train is slow but the views from the windows are pretty good.