Hoover Dam & O’Callahan-Tillman Bridge

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For decades, visitors to Las Vegas could take a short drive to see a marvel of modern engineering: the Hoover Dam.  Now, at that same destination, you can see another amazing structure: the O’Callahan-Tillman Bridge over the Colorado River.  Not only can you get a great view of the bridge from the dam, you can also get a great view of the dam from the bridge when you walk across it.

Location

The Hoover Dam is located on the Nevada/Arizona border.  The O’Callahan-Tillman Bridge carries US 93 across the Colorado River.  From Las Vegas, take Interstate 515 east.  It will turn into US 93.  The dam and bridge are about 35 miles from the middle of The Strip.

To access the bridge’s parking area and the dam, take exit 2 on the Nevada side, and follow the signs.  Old US 93 (which crosses the top of the dam) is closed on the Arizona side.  You can still drive across the dam, but you cannot reconnect with US 93.

My Visit

On my first trip, way back in 2004, I remember driving out of Las Vegas into Arizona and crossing Hoover Dam.  Back then, you had to drive down into the canyon on a curvy two-lane road, then actually drive across the top of the dam, and up the other side.  It was the only way, for miles and miles, to cross the Colorado River.  The bottleneck made driving down US 93 a time-consuming nightmare.

On the way there, I saw a huge road sign that promised a new bridge that would bypass the dam.  It bragged that the job would be completed in 2008.  I remember thinking, “2008!  That’s so far away!”  Nearly four years later, I passed that sign again, on my way down to the dam.  It still said the bridge would be completed in ’08, the only problem was….

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… 2007 was coming to an end, and the bridge still looked like this!

The Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge wasn’t completed until October 2010, and with good reason.  It was incredibly difficult to build an arch bridge over a deep canyon using a brand-new technique.  Problems with the concrete caused a months-long delay, then high winds caused problems with the bridge’s temporary cable system, adding years to the project.

Although it was completed in 2010, I hadn’t had the chance to see the new bridge until my January 2017 trip to Las Vegas.  On the last day of that trip, I made a visit to Hoover Dam a priority — in fact, I drove out to see it twice.

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The O’Callaghan-Tillman Bridge looks stunning, as it bridges the gap between Nevada (on the right) and Arizona (on the left).  You’ll get the best view of the bridge from the middle of the dam.  I’d suggest parking on the Arizona side, where parking is plentiful and free, and then walking back to the dam.

Once the bridge was completed, US 93 (and the future Interstate 11) was rerouted over the bridge. The road across the dam remained open on the Nevada side but was closed on the Arizona side, making it a dead-end road.  However, there are still some good viewpoints (and even a gift shop) on the Arizona side, making it worthwhile to drive over the dam.

You’ll notice by the picture at the top of the page that I also visited the dam at night.  Because I arrived after dark, I wasn’t allowed to walk across the dam or stop on the dam — only drive across.  I wasn’t quite satisfied with that experience, so I returned again the next morning.

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Although my primary goal was to see the bridge, I still stopped to admire all the other tourist-friendly attractions at the dam — including the Winged Figures of the Republic – a famous pair of statues on the Nevada side.

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And, I took a moment to consider the ever-dwindling water levels in Lake Mead, as an ongoing drought and increased demand for Colorado River water take their toll.

But I still had something else to do — something that wasn’t possible before the completion of the new bridge.  I wanted to see the dam from an entirely different angle.

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Engineers wisely constructed the O’Callaghan-Tillman Bridge with high walls to keep drivers from gawking over the edge, while also providing a walkway to allow pedestrians to enjoy the view.  There’s a parking area along the road down to the dam, created especially for people who want to walk across the bridge.

The pedestrian walkway is only open during daylight hours. Access and parking are free. Just like the old road, the pedestrian walkway dead-ends on the Arizona side, so you’ll need to walk back the way you came.

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The view of Hoover Dam is, of course, spectacular from the bridge, but that’s not all there is to see up here.

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You also get to look down on the old road…

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… and imagine decades of traffic jams creeping around those big curves.

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You can’t really see the arch of the bridge from up here, but you can see its shadow.

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There are markers indicating the state line, and the highest point on the bridge.

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And on the Nevada side, there are numerous displays explaining the challenging construction of the bridge, as well as the heroism of Mike O’Callaghan (a Korean War veteran and former governor of Nevada) and Pat Tillman (the Arizona Cardinals football player who gave up his career to serve in the army, later losing his life in Afghanistan).

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You can also take a selfie with the Welcome to Nevada sign.

After that, I needed a picture with just one other sign, before heading to the airport.

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I drove back to Las Vegas, and stopped at the famous welcome sign at the southern end of The Strip.  In recent years, the city has made this sign much easier to access, with a parking area in the middle of the road, accessible to southbound traffic.

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The welcome sign is also a farewell sign — a view that seemed more appropriate for me, as I prepared to fly home.  It had been a remarkable week in Zion National Park, filled with snow and rain and sleet and sun, followed by time in the Utah and Nevada deserts, and here in Vegas.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a look at the drive down to Hoover Dam:

The Bottom Line

If you’re visiting Las Vegas, try to find some time to get away from the sensory overload of The Strip, and drive out to Hoover Dam. Walk across the dam, and across the bridge.  It’s worth the effort.

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