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History, dining, and recreation highlight this dam town’s plethora of tourist activities.
Since it was established in the early 1930s to house workers who were building Boulder Dam (now Hoover Dam), Boulder City has existed in a self-imposed time warp, a small crystal of tradition and propriety in the loose sands of the Mojave Desert. The contract to build Hoover Dam meant that Ragtown, a dusty tent city perched on a hill overlooking the Colorado River, would become a utopia of brick buildings, parks, and schools.
By the time Hoover Dam was dedicated in 1935, Boulder City had become an international tourist attraction and primary source of electrical power for Southern California. The same is true 75 years later. The Hoover Dam Visitor Center, a short drive east of Boulder City, is open daily except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Visitors can explore one of our country’s engineering marvels on a tour available through the Bureau of Reclamation. The new Hoover Dam Bypass—officially the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge—is scheduled to open to traffic in November. It will provide an alternative route across the Colorado River and relieve the stress one million annual visitors put on the dam’s existing road.
Lake Mead, the product of Hoover Dam, offers numerous recreational opportunities from a sunset ride on Lake Mead Cruises’ Desert Princess paddlewheeler to a weekend houseboat excursion with Forever Resorts. Boat races, fishing tournaments, and an increasing number of competitions such as the annual Pumpkin Man Triathlon take advantage of the clear blue waters. Just south of the dam, Boulder City Outfitters offers kayakers and boaters the opportunity to enjoy hot-springs waterfalls amid the sheer cliffs of Black Canyon. Black Canyon Adventures offers launch permits, guided raft tours, and boat, kayak, and canoe rentals.
Bootleg Canyon Mountain Bike Park attracts pedal pushers from around the world. If you aren’t ready to “end-over,” you can zipline from peak to base at speeds up to 50 mph with Bootleg Canyon Flightlines. Boulder City is also a hub for “flightseeing” tourism, skydiving, and paragliding. The Boulder City Airport added a $9-million terminal where visitors can pick up a souvenir or book flights to Hoover Dam and other nearby attractions through various tour companies. For more sedate outdoor adventures, hike, bike, or ride horseback on the 35-mile River Mountains Loop Trail that runs through Boulder City, skirts the edge of Henderson, and loops back alongside Lake Mead. The trail was recently recognized as a National Recreational Trail.
History buffs will enjoy a day—or night—trip to the historic Boulder Dam Hotel, now a bed and breakfast, which has hosted numerous movie stars, among them Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. The recently renovated property features a delightful restaurant and a series of gift shops, including an outlet for the local art guild and a small museum that is open daily.
A few doors down another historic gem, the Boulder Dam Theatre, opens for special events and shows. The property is owned and restored by Desi Arnaz Jr., son of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, who honors his famous parents with a small display of artifacts in the hotel windows. The theater hosts dance-school recitals, musical performances, and the annual Chautauqua and Dam Short Film Festival.
In the quaint downtown area, brick houses dating to the 1930s line streets named for the states with waters that drain into the Colorado River: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wyoming. At the center is Bicentennial Park, used for numerous festivals, including the 4th of July parade, Wurstfest, Art in the Park, and Santa’s Electric Light Parade.
Although Boulder City is one of only two Nevada communities to prohibit gaming, liquor was legalized within the city limits in 1969. One of the earliest bars, The Backstop, offers guests a free drink “any day the sun doesn’t shine.”
Milo’s Cellar and Sidewalk Café attracts patrons with its fresh sandwiches and salads and extraordinary wine at bargain prices. Owner Milo Hurst recently added a bed and breakfast with a charming private courtyard and koi pond. “People come to town [for an event], and they are looking for a good glass of wine at a great value,” Hurst says. “That is the type of customer we want to attract.”
Next door to Milo’s, Tony’s Pizza has added a sit-down section. The adjoining outdoor-seating area blends into Milo’s, letting patrons mix and match their dining choices. Parents often share a bottle of wine and a cheese platter with a neighbor while the kids split a pizza. Close by, beer aficionados can enjoy sandwiches, weekend live music, and locally brewed libations at Boulder Dam Brewing Company. The pub is part of the MyCouponToday free wireless network site that lets you log in and access an online coupon to local businesses.
Just down the street family-owned and staffed Big Horn Restaurant offers spaghetti sauce you’ll forever savor, as well as other meticulously prepared Mediterranean food in a quaint setting with a gorgeous hand-carved bar. Evan’s Old Town Grille is a perfect place to perch on an outdoor stool and chat with locals. The Pit Stop, another local’s favorite, serves up hamburgers, fried fish, and soup. Toto’s offers fabulous fresh salsa to go with its top-notch California-style Mexican food, while Casa Flores steers toward a Texas-style menu and great margaritas. The Bistro and Le Sagittaire Cafe are perfect for the special-occasion dinner.
Just past the Nevada Southern Railroad Museum on Yucca Street, which offers 45-minute rides on Pullman coaches most Saturdays and Sundays, is the Fisher Space Pen Company. Fisher pens have accompanied numerous manned space flights. The factory hosts a small storefront that is open weekdays until 4 p.m. and offers engraving services.
Boulder City’s blend of sophisticated dining, world-class outdoor activities, open scenery, and historic intimacy make it a fine stop on any tour around Nevada. “Boulder City is a very special place,” Hurst says. “It’s real. If someone passes by and doesn’t stop to take a look, they’ll miss out.”
Nevada Magazine’s Tour Around Nevada campaign will conclude with the November/December 2010 issue. Thank you to all who voted and the hospitality and support of the towns covered along the way!
MEET NEVADA MAGAZINE
On October 2 and 3, we will meet and greet visitors and Boulder City citizens at Art in the Park. We invite you to visit our booth and pick up a free magazine.
*Nevada Magazine is proud to partner with Virginia City etching company Botcha-Caloop’s in the production of the Tour Around Nevada plaque.
Boulder City Chamber of Commerce
465 Nevada Way
Boulder City, NV 89005
WORTH A CLICK
Calvary Chapel Block Party, Sept. 11
Friday Farmers’ Market, thru Sept. 17
“That Dam Depression” Chautauqua, Sept. 17-18
Wurstfest, Sept. 25
Great Train Robbery of the Nevada Southern Railway, Sept. 25-26
Art in the Park, Oct. 2-3
Pumpkin Man Triathlon, Oct. 22-23
Dam Short Festival, Feb. 2011
Visit bouldercitychamberofcommerce.com for more events.