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Tunneling thru history
In 1931 a construction contract was let to Six Companies, Inc., a consortium of six major western firms. Together with the government, they built almost 30 miles of railroad connecting Boulder City with all the facilities needed to build Hoover Dam (eg., cement mixing plants, quarry pit, gravel sorting plant).
The Hoover Dam construction railroad system had three segments. The first, from Las Vegas to the Boulder City site, was built and operated by the Union Pacific Railroad.
The second segment was built by the U.S. Government. It ran from Boulder City down Hemenway Wash to Himix, the concrete mixing plant on the rim of the Black Canyon overlooking the dam. It provided concrete for the final 242 feet of the dam and the buildings on its crest. The airline distance from Boulder City to Himix was 6.7 miles. A drop in 1100 feet in elevation however, necessitated ten miles of winding tracks to keep the grades from being too steep.
Six Companies, Inc. built and operated the third segment of the system. The tracks branched off the U.S. Government Construction Railroad at Lawler, about a mile up Hemenway Wash from the Visitor Center. It crossed Hemenway Wash and followed the base of the River Mountains and then looped eastward to the gravel plant on the flat overlooking the Colorado River. One branch went upstream 7.3 miles from the gravel plant to the gravel beds on the Arizona side.
Isolation demanded the tons of concrete needed for the dam to be manufactured locally. An electric dragline with a five cubic yard capacity loaded gravel into railroad cars. Concrete was made by mixing sand and crushed rock, called aggregate, with portland cement and water. Over four million cubic yards of aggregate were taken from the Arizona side of the river.
The other branch followed the river downstream into Black Canyon, to Lomix, a concrete mixing plant situated at the base of Black Canyon. Lomix provided the concrete for the diversion-tunnel linings, the powerhouse foundation, and two-thirds of the dam. To prevent the concrete from drying during transportation the mixing plant was put as close to the river as possible.
Locomotives hauled tons of gravel to a screening plant on the other side of the river 24-hours a day. A round trip took slightly over two hours. The foundations of the plant are now about 150 feet below the water level of Lake Mead.
The Six Companies, Inc. Railroad was, of course, abandoned after the completion of Hoover Dam in 1935. The U.S. Government Construction Railroad section was sporadically used until 1961, when the last generator was hauled over its rails and installed at the power plant.
The tracks were dismantled in 1962 and sold as scrap to Lucia Brothers. The tunnels and trail were nominated in 1984 to the National Register of Historic Places.
Today you can walk or bicycle along the elevated railroad bed used to haul supplies and materials for the construction of Hoover Dam. Enjoy the spectacular views of Lake Mead and the surrounding desert landscape.
The Hoover Dam Historic Railroad Trail is a Rails to Trails project that has finally been completed. The trail officially starts about 100 feet east of the Alan Bible Visitors Center off highway 93. There is paved parking to accommodate dozens of cars and is equipped with restrooms but no running water. Railroads seldom make the grade of track greater than one percent so with that in mind you can expect this to be a fairly level hike, with the exception of the last mile. Described as west to east you will arrive at a gate after about one half of a mile. This gate is locked after dark for dam security. Continuing on around the next bend Lake Mead appears with a marina in the foreground. On the right along the roadbed ravine lie large chunks of concrete which were removed from the dam to install turbines. Also take note of sections of the old pioneer trail which appear from time to time on either side of the roadbed. At 1.3 miles the first of five tunnels appears ahead. These spectacular tunnels have been completely refinished. You may also take note that most of the material from carving these tunnels now makes up the roadbed you are on high above ground level. Originally built to carry huge items in the construction of the Hoover Dam, the tunnels are oversized in both height and width. They average 25 feet high and about 300 feet long. Four of which you can see straight thru but one which curves thru the mountain obstructing vision until you get mid tunnel. Benches are strategically placed along the trail for gazing at the panoramic views. After exiting the fifth tunnel there is another gate with a sign warning for security purposes the gate will be locked at dark. The final mile of trail starts the majority of descent down to the dam. The trail serpentines down and ends on the top deck of the visitors center parking garage at the Hoover Dam. From the top deck of the parking structure there is an elevator down to street level. From here you can walk the dam, take the big dam tour and even have a snack. If you did not prearrange a shuttle, when you are ready, return the way you came. This is a great way to enjoy this remarkable accomplishement in a non traditional way avoiding the masses that visit here on a daily basis.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.
This hike is listed as One-Way.
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