Without the massive wall of concrete called Hoover Dam, Boulder City, Nev., wouldn't exist. The town sprouted during the Great Depression to house thousands of workers, mainly men, who had headed west to help build the dam. People now often bypass the town on the drive from Las Vegas to visit the engineering marvel. But for those who prefer an outdoor adventure over a smoky casino, Boulder City offers a wealth of pursuits on land and on Lake Mead, the vast body of water created by the dam. The tab for two: $89 (excluding taxes and fees) for a room at the Boulder Dam Hotel and about $50 for dinner at the Dillinger.
Workers slept in shanties and tents while visiting executives enjoyed the relative luxury of the Boulder Dam Hotel (1305 Arizona St., Boulder City;  293-3510, www.boulderdamhotel.com), built in 1933. Its 21 small rooms reflect the property's age, but they've been well maintained. Queen rooms are $89 a night; add $5 for a king. A real plus: The hotel houses the Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum ( 294-1988, www.bcmha.org), a compact but well-curated museum chronicling the astonishing construction feat. Admission is $2, a mechanic's helper wage for a full day's work at the dam during the early 1930s.
Two shotguns fashioned into door handles set the theme at the Dillinger (1224 Arizona St., Boulder City;  293-4001, www.thedillinger.com). With an ever-changing array of craft beers, the restaurant is known for its burgers ($8-$19) named for thugs such as Al Capone, Baby Face Nelson and Bugsy Siegel. For breakfast, consider the Coffee Cup Cafe (512 Nevada Way, Boulder City;  294-0517, www.worldfamouscoffeecup.com), where popular dishes include the pork chile verde omelet ($9) and "The Hangover" ($8), a mix of biscuits and gravy, sausage and eggs all topped with cheddar cheese.
The desert, mountains and water provide plentiful recreational opportunities. There are several hiking paths, including the Historic Railroad Tunnel Trail. The nearly four-mile trail includes tunnels blasted to haul equipment to the dam during its construction. In Bootleg Canyon, home to another hiking trail, there's the Flightlinez zip-line ( 293-6885, www.flightlinezbootleg.com). The lake is so expansive it's easy for boaters to feel it's theirs alone. The closest place to Boulder City that rents watercraft is Lake Mead Marina ( 293-3484, www.boatinglakemead.com).
The lesson learned
In the 1920s Boulder Dam was the unofficial name for the huge public works project. In 1930 the secretary of the Interior formally named it Hoover Dam after his boss, Republican President Herbert Hoover. After Democrat Franklin Roosevelt took office, the name reverted to Boulder in 1933. In 1947 Congress resolved to once again call it Hoover Dam. According to the local museum, an anonymous citizen suggested another name: Whogivza Dam.
MORE WEEKEND ESCAPES