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The Complete Nevada Traveler by David W. Toll
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Boulder City holds a unique place in American history.


The Nevada
Travel Network
Description and History of
Boulder City
by David W. Toll
Boulder City Nevada
From The Complete Nevada Traveler, the Affectionate and Intimately Detailed Guidebook to the Most Interesting State in America. Buy the Book Here

The Nevada Adventure Map





BY ALL MEANS get to Hoover Dam, get to Lake Mead, don't miss them! But don't be so tightly focused on the Great Artifact that you miss Boulder City on the way. Anywhere else on the state map, Boulder City would be a 5-star wonder.
Welcome to Boulder City Nevada
Nevada Way, Boulder City
Photo by Max Winthrop

Here, between the mega-attractions of Las Vegas and Hoover Dam it sometimes goes unrecognized as the exceptionally inviting city it is.
Boulder City was built by the federal govermnent to house the workers who built Hoover Dam, and was the first planned community developed in the U.S. After more than 80 years it still stands in such pronounced contrast to the higgledy-piggledy aspect of other Nevada towns that it seems an exotic flower indeed to have grown from the gritty desert soil.

Building the Dam

For many years Boulder City was a federal reservation; homes could not be purchased, only leased; gambling and liquor were prohibited. This tradition ran so deep in the community that it was nearly ten years after the feds gave up ownership (in 1960) before laws were relaxed enough to allow liquor licenses (casino gambling is still outlawed). A controlled growth ordinance enacted in 1979 limits the number of new building permits each year, so that the population increase here — so close to the fastest-growing city in America — is barely 400 people a year.

That's part of the reason the pace is so much slower here, and the atmosphere so much calmer than in Las Vegas. This more relaxed environment is one of Boulder City's characteristic attractions, but there are a jillion things to do here, with plenty of comfortable accommodations and a varied selection of dining choices.

The Boulder Dam Hotel The Boulder Dam Hotel looks just as it did 80 years ago.
Photo by Max Winthrop
Begin a pleasant stroll at the Chamber of Commerce office where you can get maps and information specific to your interests. From here go east as far as suits you, cross over and come back on the other side of the street past the Boulder Theater, the largest in Nevada when it opened in 1932, and for a long time the only air conditioned buiilding in town. Walk west along Arizona street, making sure to visit the hotel, taking in the characteristic "Southwestern" architecture of the commercial buildings and indulging your curiosity as you go.

The Blues Brothers Boulder City street art
Photo by Max Winthrop
Your visit to the Boulder Dam Hotel will transport you effortlessly to 1933 when this was the most luxurious hotel in Nevada, catering to guests like Shirley Temple and the Prince and Princess of Norway. The hotel was acquired by a consortium of local non-profits for an ambitious program of restoration and about 20 of the upstairs
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rooms (each one dedicated to a famous patron) have been refurbished for guests. The hotel restaurant adjoining the almost-exactly original lobby, serves breakfast to order without charge to hotel guests and at modest cost to the rest of us.


As you continue your walk through the downtown you'll notice that the Backstop Sports Pub still honors a famous local guarantee: "Free Drink to Anyone Any Day the Sun Doesn't Shine in Boulder City." Cross the Nevada Highway, and walk southwest along Boulder City's original commercial block. Mel's Diner is a 50's-style cafe and the Coffee Cup Cafe is in the oldest surviving business structure (1931).

Milo's in Boulder City The sidewalk cafe is a Boulder City staple.
Photo by Max Winthrop
Boulder City's downtown today is geared to Dam tourists and other travelers, with an emphasis on sidewalk cafes, antiques and art. Public art is everywhere (and some splendid junk and kitsch too). Milo's, The Dillinger and a half dozen other downtown cafes put tables outside, which makes the whole downtown seem hospitable and welcoming.

The Reflection Center in Boulder City The Reflection Center.
Photo by Max Winthrop
Turn right on Ash Street and walk up to its intersection with Railroad and Colorado Streets, where, next to the old water treatment plant, you will find the extraordinary Reflections Center. This public setting dedicated to art and reflection, was the inspiration of '31er Teddy Fenton and the creation of community volunteers. ('31ers are Boulder City's version of California's '49ers.)

The Historic District is still the center of interest but there are other attractions.

Veteran's Cemetery in Boulder City The Veterans' Cemetery
Photo by Max Winthrop
Drive west on the Nevada Highway to Buchanan Street and turn south. The boulevard passes the popular Boulder City Municipal Golf Course and the Veterans' Cemetery — each a significant attraction in itself — en route to the airport where Skydive Las Vegas carries skydivers and paragliders up to 12,200 feet for an "adrenaline adventure" by appointment.

Bootleg Canyon Zipline in Boulder City Soaring over Bootleg Canyon
Photo courtesy Flightlinez
Or go further west and take Yucca Street north to Industrial, then go east until you see the Flightlinez building on your left. This is the boarding area for the shuttles up to the trailhead, where passengers begin the 15-minute climb on foot to the first zipline platform. There are four more platforms in descending order extending about a mile and a half down Bootleg Canyon, and people — as many as 300 a day under the right conditions, as few as 50 when things are slow — entertain themselves by gliding down the cables from one platforms to the next at speeds above 50 mph.

Aerial trail in Boulder City Arriving at the platform
Photo by Max Winthrop
These 'aerial trails' are the legacy of Brett Thompson, who developed the award-winning system of trails in Bootleg Canyon as a form of therapy when his doctor recommened exercise. He approached Greenheart, a Canadian company that works in parks and protected areas to create a global network of conservation-based aerial trails, and the project resulted. It is now so successful that over the past 3 years it contributed $300,000 to local charities.

Nevada Southern Railroad in Boulder City The Nevada Southern operates on weekends except in January.
Photo courtesy Nevada Southern RR
Nevada Southern Railroad in Boulder City The Museum commemorates the role of the railroad in the construction of Hoover Dam.
Photo courtesy Nevada Southern RR
And back down Yucca Street toward the highway is the NSRR at the State Railroad Museum. Displays of the old running gear bring the early years back to life. Trains run on weekends (except January) at 10 and 11:30 am, and 1
NSRR A Saturday run prepares for departure
Photo by Max Winthrop
and 2:30 pm, plus special trains during holiday seasons.

These trains usually consists of three air-conditioned/heated cars (two coaches and a wheelchair accessible car), an open-air car, and a generator car (to supply power for lights, air-conditioning and heating).

The run proceeds west approximately three miles to just behind the Railroad Pass Casino using the right of way and track developed by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1931
Nevada Southern Railroad in Boulder City The mighty machines come growling to life
Photo courtesy Nevada Southern RR
to supply materials to Boulder City for use in the building Hoover Dam. The round trip takes about 45 minutes. There is an excellent gift shop.

There is a small rodeo arena on B Hill — take Avenue K south to Corral Road — where you are likely to see ropers working themselves and their critters almost any afternoon. This is the only part of Boulder City where horses are allowed to reside, and they are here in force.

Boulder City City Hall City Hall.
Photo by Max Winthrop
You'll find great tree-shaded parks all over the city and public buildings — City Hall, the Post Office — occupy a lawned campus on the east side of town. You are welcome to enjoy them, but the locals use different names for them than the mapmakers. If you can't find Wilbur Square, ask for Government Park, and if Bicentennial Park eludes you, try Gazebo Park.

Hemenway Valley and Lake Mead Hemenway Valley and Lake Mead
Photo by Max Winthrop
Hemenway Valley is one of the fabulous sights in Southern Nevada. It lies to the north of the city proper, a wide, rocky barranca spilling down toward the broad blue expanse of Lake Mead alongside US 93. Near the top of the Valley the St. Jude's Ranch for Children welcomes visitors. The highway to Hoover Dam follows the steep slope into the valley and overlooks the stunning architectural free-for-all that is taking place on this expensive real estate. The immense homes here were built with unrestrained exuberance, the absolute antithesis to the carefully planned, trim and tidy government houses on the other side of the hill. It's not uncommon to find a band of mountain sheep grazing on the broad lawns of Hemenway Park.

Hoover Dam Overlook The view from Hoover Dam Overlook.
Photo by Jenny McIver
A brief digression from the highway to tour this magnificent neighborhood is highly recommended, and at Christmas when these mansions are elaborately decorated, it is mandatory.

US Highway 93 no longer crosses the Colorado by passing over Hoover Dam, and the deep internal tours of the electrical generators are no longer offered. Instead, the road has been diverted to the south, where a spectacular arched bridge was built across the river far below. An Overlook has been built allowing nervy pedestrians to walk out to the magnificent view of the great dam and Lake Mead.


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