With 24 Lighthouses and the Original London Bridge, this Desert Oasis is Full of Surprises
After a visit in our motorhome to Lake Havasu City, Ariz., my wife, Gayle, and I are convinced this particular high-desert area of Arizona should be on the ‘bucket list’ for every RVer. Sixty miles of scenic lake waterways, sandy beaches, no jellyfish or sharks, hidden coves surrounded by canyon cliffs, and connection to the navigable Colorado River, all add to the attraction of the area.
Waterskiing, wakeboarding, houseboating, kayaking, canoeing and fishing are just some of the activities here. No wonder Lake Havasu was named the “Best Non-Ocean Beach Destination” in 2011 by Yahoo. But there’s so much more to Lake Havasu.
Of particular interest to me are the 24 working lighthouses that have been erected and maintained by the Lake Havasu Lighthouse Club. All but the one original lighthouse (located at the entrance to the marina), are scaled-down replicas of actual U.S. lighthouses, and can be seen during a self-guided tour. They are used as navigational aids by those on Lake Havasu, and meet all U.S. Coast Guard requirements. Some of the lighthouses I saw were Cape Hatteras, West Quoddy, East Quoddy, Umpqua River, Montauk Point, Vermillian, Split Rock, West Point and Thunder Bay.
This was our second visit to Lake Havasu. The first time we stayed in our motorhome at Bullhead City, Ariz., which is across the Colorado River from Laughlin, Nev. We went down the river by boat from Laughlin, through steep but uniquely scenic canyons that offer glimpses of rarely encountered wildlife such as desert bighorn sheep and wild burros. Eventually, we arrived at London Bridge, in Lake Havasu City, which is close to the border with California. Within an easy walk of the bridge, on both sides of the waterway, are restaurants, quaint shops, excursion boats, a brewery and many other attractions worth checking out.
During our most recent visit, we stayed at one of many, many RV resorts that are located in and around Lake Havasu City; some of those situated right on the shore. One of the discoveries we made the first day was that there is an amazing infrastructure in place to accommodate most any type of service or repair, for virtually any RV or boat. Another thing learned was there are no apparent size restrictions on either. We saw dozens of beautifully painted offshore racing boats, with three or four high-performance engines, which normally would only be encountered in glitzy coastal recreation areas. Likewise, there were lots of extravagant motorhomes that made our 35 footer look really small.
One of the most important reasons this location is so attractive to such a large number of people is the weather – more than 300 sunny days a year. Around 750,000 visitors come each year, drawn, in part, by the calm water of the lake and the low-humidity desert weather. The average high temperature during the coldest part of the winter is in the mid-60s. By the end of May, the average high has reached an uncomfortable 95 degrees. But in October, it’s back in the upper 80s.
Of course, the London Bridge is an attraction worthy of mention. It once spanned a section of the Thames River in London, England. Built in 1831, it was not designed to handle the stress of 20th century vehicle traffic. In 1967 the Common Council of the City of London placed it on the market. On April 18, 1968, the winning bid went to Lake Havasu City founder, Robert P. McCulloch, for $2,460,000. Each block was numbered before being disassembled. They were shipped through the Panama Canal to California; then trucked from Long Beach. The entire bridge was then reconstructed at the new location and rededicated on Oct. 10, 1971. The total cost of this huge tourist attraction (the second biggest in the state), including initial purchase, relocation and reassembly, was $5.1 million.
Also within walking distance of the bridge is the Lake Havasu Museum of History. It showcases the history and culture of this unique city. Included are exhibits pertaining to the history of the Native American Chemehuevi tribe; building of the Parker Dam and formation of Lake Havasu; and how the vision of city founder Robert McCulloch led to the creation of Lake Havasu City as it is today.
If fishing is your thing, Lake Havasu ranks as one of the best fishing destinations in the Southwest. A valid Arizona fishing license and Colorado River stamp are required for anglers 14 years or older. Large- and smallmouth bass, stripers, panfish and catfish can be taken all year long – but bag limits vary, so it’s best to pick up a copy of the regulations at one of the several local businesses that are authorized to issue licenses, including Kmart and Walmart.
I like to hike, especially on nature trails where wildlife abounds. The Lake Havasu area has many trails for hikers of all levels. Those who want a leisurely stroll can walk on paved surfaces, around and beneath the London Bridge. Those who want something more challenging can try the trails in SARA Park, where you can see canyons with towering cliffs and perhaps desert bighorn sheep. Experienced hikers can also try conquering Cupcake Mountain. Birders will find the nearby Havasu National Wildlife Refuge, which extends across the border into California, to be of particular interest.
Walking and bicycling are excellent ways to see the city and lake while getting exercise. For those who don’t have a bicycle, there are at least three area businesses that will be happy to rent one to you. But there are other ways to get around, too – like the Lake Havasu Trolley. Of course, there are plenty of excursion and adventure tours, such as helicopter, airplane, seaplane and hot-air balloon rides; parasailing, ultralight flights, Segway tours, jet boat rides, kayaking tours, sunset cruises – the list goes on and on. There’s even the ASA-sanctioned Havasu 95 Speedway. Stock car races with late-model cars, modified, truck, street stock, legend, bandolero and factory stock classes, happen from September through May.
There are more than 20 all-terrain vehicle (ATV) trails within easy driving distance. They wind over and through sand dunes, canyons and open desert. If you don’t have your own, there are plenty of places to rent 4WD trucks, dirt bikes, ATVs and UTVs.
Within an hour’s drive of Lake Havasu City is a quaint little town left over from the Old West, named Oatman. It still has wooden sidewalks, and merchants dress in late-1800s costume. But we found the most interesting aspect is that wild burros roam freely in the streets. You can purchase pellets of food that they will gladly take from your hand – but be careful that’s all they take. There were some real cute young ones with their mothers when we were there.
There’s so much to see and do in Lake Havasu City, we will definitely be going back. On our next visit, we would love to bring our kids and grandkids. If dreams could come true, the entire family, plus our friends and their friends, would get together there for at least a week. Based on our experience, we’re sure that virtually everyone would enjoy a long weekend or a week there.