The 1,400-mile-long Colorado River, fed by Rocky Mountain snowfields, ran wild for countless eons as it carved the mighty Grand Canyon in its race west to the Gulf of California.
Spring and summer runoff produced by a heavy snowpack caused a rampaging flow that flooded farm lands. It eroded millions of tons of valuable topsoil, causing ruin for farmers and ranchers along its banks.
In drier years, its flow shriveled. Crops withered and cattle died for lack of adequate water.
The federal government commissioned a series of studies after the turn of the century to harness the Colorado's erratic rampages. Engineers sought to make the river a servant rather than man's master. Massive destruction in the regions of California, Nevada, Arizona and Mexico early in the 20th Century emphasized the need for corrective action.
The U.S. Congress passed the Boulder Canyon Project Act in 1928, authorizing construction of Hoover Dam and the All-American Canal.
The All-American Canal is a 170-foot-wide conduit that transports water from the Colorado River near Yuma, Ariz., across the arid desert along the Mexican border into the Imperial Valley of Southern California. The canal was constructed in the late 1930s and early 1940s. It supplies water to the Imperial Irrigation District.
A branch canal flows into the Indio, Calif., area, supplying water to the Coachella Valley Water District. Hoover Dam's primary purpose was flood control and to maintain a controlled and reliable source of water. By-products are non- resource-depleting electric power and the popular Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
The lake is a water source for nearly 25 million people. Las Vegas receives most of its drinking water from Lake Mead through the Southern Nevada Water Project.
The 726-foot-high dam was dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt on Sept. 30, 1935. Its 17 generators produce 4 to 5 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. That's enough power to supply a half million homes for one year, according to the Bureau of Reclamation, the agency responsible for maintaining and operating Hoover Dam.
By the end of 1992, upgrading on the dam's massive generators increased the original "nameplate capacity" from 1,345 megawatts to slightly more than 2,000 megawatts.
More than 31.2 million visitors have toured the massive structure since tours began in 1937.
At the peak of construction, more than 5,000 people were employed on the gigantic project in Black Canyon. Ninety-six workers died on the project.
The actual cost of Hoover Dam, the All-American Canal, the town of Boulder City, highways, railroads and various other works was $165 million. The dam itself had a price tag of nearly $60 million -- about 6 percent of the $1 billion required to build the massive MGM Grand Hotel, Casino and Theme Park on the fabulous Las Vegas Strip.
It is an arch-gravity dam, 660 feet thick at its base. The entire project required 4.4 million yards of concrete. Straddling the Arizona-Nevada border, its spillways are 50 feet in diameter. Its steel-lined penstocks carry water from the intake towers to 30- foot-diameter turbines.
The completion of Hoover Dam backed up the Colorado, Virgin and Muddy rivers to form Lake Mead. When full, the lake is 110 miles long and reaches into the lower part of the Grand Canyon. It has a shoreline of more than 550 miles and a surface area of 255 square miles.
Lake Mead carries the name of former U.S. Commissioner of Reclamation Elwood C. Mead and has a capacity of 28.6 million acre feet of water. An acre foot is equivalent to one acre of land covered by one foot of water, or the amount of water used by a family of four in a year.
The dam, completed two years ahead of schedule, was cited by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1955 as one of the seven engineering wonders of the world. The structure's volume surpasses the largest pyramid in Egypt that a Greek philosopher said required 100,000 men 20 years to complete.
Its power is marketed in Arizona, California and Nevada and the revenue has been used to pay construction and maintenance costs.
Lake Mead offers a wide variety of activities, including boating, water skiing, fishing, boat touring and camping. There are six docking marinas on Lake Mead with an equal number of developed campgrounds. Currently no fees are charged to launch private boats.
A fee to enter the Lake Mead National Recreation Area has been approved and will be initiated by the National Park Service in 1996.
It costs $8 per night per site to camp in improved facilities in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. This fee includes up to eight people and no more than two vehicles.
There is no closed season for angling but proper state licenses and permits are required. Lake Mead fish include largemouth bass, striped bass, catfish, trout, crappie and bluegill. There are hundreds of secluded coves and many areas of sandy beaches around Lake Mead's 550 miles of shoreline.
Hoover Dam is a highly photographed attraction and cameras are welcome. The dam is 34 miles from Las Vegas. Bus tours to the project are offered every day of the year except Christmas.
A new $87.9 million visitors center opened June 21, 1995.
The new visitor center hours of operation are 8:30am to 5:45pm. A guided, 35-minute tours of Hoover Dam take visitors deep inside the monolith for a complete explanation of its history, purpose and inner workings. Tours leave from the visitor center every few minutes.Tickets are priced as follows: Adults (17-61) $11.00 ; Juniors (4-16) $9.00 and Seniors (62+) $9.00. Youngsters up to 4 years of age are admitted free of charge with a parent. A special "Hard Hat Tour" is also available.
With a projected life of many hundreds of years, Hoover Dam undoubtedly will cause gasps of wonder and amazement at its centennial celebration in the year 2035.
Hoover Dam literally changed the face of the American West.