Want a fun little hike? Want to see some Hoover Dam History? Then you may want to travel out to Boulder City and walk the Historic Railroad Tunnels.
About a thirty-minute drive outside of Las Vegas is a little town called Boulder City. It was built to house the workers who were needed to build Hoover Dam during the Great Depression. To get the supplies down to the Dam site, they needed to blast out some tunnels for the railroad.
It’s an easy drive out from Las Vegas. Once you are out in Boulder City, follow the signs to go thru Historic Downtown Boulder City, not to save time or anything. It’s just a cute little town stuck in time that’s fun to drive through and you may want to stop and shop!
Follow the signs down Main Street, actually called Nevada Way, but it just seems like it should be named Main Street! The signs will point you to Hoover Dam. As you exit Boulder City and get mesmerized by that big body of water in front of you called Lake Mead, watch for the signs on your left, pointing to the entrance to Lake Mead National Recreation Area. You will also see some large black rocks and of course, Lake Mead.
That turnoff is also the entrance to what’s known as the Historic Railroad Tunnels as well as the Lake Mead Visitor Center. Take that turn off. The nice thing is that where you are going is before the actual entrance to Lake Mead. So no need for a National Park Pass and there is a dedicated parking lot with free parking!
Those black rocks you see in the background are some of the toughest rocks on the face of the earth and in 1931, at the depths of the Great Depression, men were down there digging and blasting five railroad tunnels in order to get the supply trains down to what would become Hoover Dam. And that is where we are today. Walking the Historic Railroad Tunnels.
Don’t Worry, it’s an Easy Walk!
To walk the five tunnels and back is about 4 miles round trip on a flat, gravely roadway meant for walking, biking, and it is wheelchair accessible. If you want, the railway bed/walkway goes on down to Hoover Dam with a path that can also take you over to the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge. That is closer to a seven-mile round-trip walk.
For any of the walks, play it safe, you are in the desert. Wear comfortable walking shoes, bring plenty of water and energy snacks. Plus always wear sunshade.
Along your walk, there are benches to sit and rest, to ponder the fate of humanity while overlooking what’s left of Lake Mead. Plus you will find information plaques giving you some of the historical backgrounds on what you are looking at. In other words, don’t be in a hurry!
A Railroad Out Here??
In 1931, the country was in the middle of the Great Depression. Jobs were scarce and you went wherever you thought you could find work. There was no such thing as unemployment insurance or welfare. Men worked or their families starved. It was that simple.
For many, that meant coming out here. Into the middle of nowhere. The middle of the Mojave Desert, hoping to find work. Boulder City was still being built. That was to house the workers who would eventually build Hoover Dam. The only other town around was Las Vegas. And that was a two-hour drive away. Today it’s about thirty minutes! So yes, you were literally in the middle of nowhere!
But this was all they had. A chance at a job working in the wide-open desert and unbearable summer heat. But if you could get hired, it paid very well and you maybe had a place to live while you had the job.
They Built It!
Due to the massive scale of the project and what it was going to take to build one of the largest man-made objects on earth, almost everything it took to build Hoover Dam had to be built on-site. So the supply trains were needed to haul the equipment, the rocks, and the steel down to the job site(s). And to do that took only three things:
- The brains to figure out how to build what needed to be built in the middle of nowhere!
- Brawn, muscles. There was no such thing as computers, CADCAM, or laser-guided drills in 1931. It was men with muscles. Or men who were going to get muscles.
- Dynamite. I think this is where Las Vegas fell in love with the idea of blowing things up! To build Hoover Dam, it took a lot of dynamite to blast away the rocks to create a place to properly fit the dam.
Fresh Air and a Little Education
Walking the railroad tunnels offers you some quiet time. You don’t hear the highway on the other side of the mountain. There is plenty of room for people to spread out, so you are usually walking alone. No motorized vehicles are allowed on the path. All you see are some mountains, a vanishing lake, and some boat docks. It’s you and nature, that’s it. A nice time to just unwind and connect with nature. See some wildlife and enjoy the fresh air.
There are those days when you think the world is crashing down on you and you just can’t handle another minute of it. Then you look up at the opening of these tunnels, you look at what is there, and imagine what it took to build what you are seeing. And you realize what they had to work with every day and suddenly, your life looks a whole lot better.
And maybe that’s why I like the tunnels so much. It’s a nice place to get some perspective on life. To reconnect with what’s important to us and to maybe honor those who have come before us, who paved the way for our relatively easy way of life.
Any way you look at it, walking the railroad tunnels is a nice break from the insanity of our everyday world. A nice place to relax, enjoy nature, see some wonders of the world and get some easy exercise!
If you ever visit the tunnels, let me know what you think. Ok?