Paddling Lake Havasu and Exploring Nellis AFB – May 2021

Lake Havasu has been highlighted on many of the RV groups that I follow on Facebook. In reading the various posts, I was intrigued by the place and always wanted to visit. This year worked out to be the best time to do that.

In 1938, Lake Havasu was formed by the Parker Dam on the Colorado River to store water for two aqueducts, and provide hydroelectric power. It is a very popular boating area.

On our first day in Lake Havasu State Park, the high temperature was 100°. We hid inside our air-conditioned trailer. We looked at the weather forecast and determined that the winds would be low the next morning so the next day, we woke up early when the temperatures would be cooler, and rode our bikes to the London Bridge and onto the island. We rode past a few RV parks and I was happy we were staying at the state park. The state park may not have full hookup sites, but the individual sites are more spread out and it feels like you are camping.

In the afternoon, I toured the Lake Havasu Museum of History. This is a small, but well organized museum that made it very easy to understand how the area was developed. I was amazed how much the area owed to two visionary men, Robert McCulloch and C.V. Wood.

The community started as an Army Air Corps recreation camp on the shores of Lake Havasu, called “Site Six,” during World War II. In 1963, Robert McCulloch, owner of McCulloch Motors, was flying over Lake Havasu looking for a place to test his outboard engines. He thought that the land surrounding Lake Havasu had great potential for an emerging city. Lake Havasu City was established on September 30, 1963. McCulloch and developer C.V. Wood joined efforts and founded what would be a thriving community. C.V. Wood had previously designed the Disneyland amusement park in Anaheim, California.

In 1964, there was only one unimproved road into the city. McCulloch needed a way to get prospective buyers to the new city so he chose air charter. Between 1964 and 1978, 2,702 flights brought 137,000 potential land buyers to Lake Havasu City. This huge sales push that targeted mainly people from colder states. In 1978, the last parcel of land was sold, and the city was incorporated. By 1981, Lake Havasu City boasted a population of 17,000. In subsequent years, the city experienced population growth at a steady flow of about 1,000 people annually. Most came in search of refuge from big cities to enjoy Lake Havasu City’s laid-back lifestyle. McCulloch even moved his chainsaw manufacturing operation to Lake Havasu to provide the community with a core business to build the economy.

Lake Havasu City’s claim to fame is the London Bridge. This purchase did not come out of a sudden impulse. The London Bridge built in 1833 in London, England was gradually sinking into the River Thames and had been for sale by the London Council for quite some time. McCulloch placed his bid for the bridge of 2.4 million dollars in 1968. Completing the project took three years. Each block was marked and numbered, then shipped through the Panama Canal, unloaded in California, and transported to Arizona. The bridge was reassembled by matching the numbered stones. The bridge was built as a conventional structure and covered with the original granite to retain its antique look. The bridge was reconstructed on a dry piece of land. The land was then dredged from underneath the bridge, creating Bridgewater Channel and “The Island” across the bridge. On October 10, 1971, the completed bridge was formally dedicated in a ceremony attended by over 50,000 American and British spectators and dignitaries.

The next day we decided to walk and I was able to check out some of the lighthouse replicas that line the shore on the island and the mainland. When one thinks of lighthouse locations, they rarely consider a landlocked, desert state such as Arizona for their location, but it just so happens that Lake Havasu City is home to more lighthouses than any other city in the entire country. These scaled-down replicas are actual functioning navigational aids built to the specifications of famous lighthouses on the East Coast, West Coast and Great Lakes. The Lake Havasu Lighthouse Club is a non-profit group of independent citizens dedicated to the preservation, improvement and promotion of Lake Havasu and the City. They wanted to make the lake a safe place for night boating and fishing. Instead of just settling on simple and mundane lighthouses that could be cheaply produced, they took pride in their development and chose to highlight the famous lighthouses in the U.S. by making smaller replica lighthouses. These fully-functional replica lighthouses make an already adventurous boating experience even more beautiful and unique. All of the lighthouses on the west side of Lake Havasu are replicas of famous lighthouses on the West Coast, while the east side consists of East Coast replicas. The lighthouses around the island are all replicas of lighthouses from the Great Lakes.

On our fourth day the winds were low again and we launched our kayaks from a small beach a few sites away from our own. As we paddled around the island, we saw the ferry to the California side of the Colorado River. There was a lot of boat traffic on the lake, including many “cigarette boats” that didn’t believe in mufflers. You could hear them coming a long way off. It was a longer paddle than we planned on, but quite interesting. At one spot, we pulled in for a short rest. The local groups are doing their best to keep the area clean. They provide stands with large trash bags to prevent littering. It was pretty sad that I was able to almost fill one bag with trash that included two other partially filled bags that had been left behind. Ours ended up in a dumpster.

We try to go out to eat at least once wherever we stay and we chose a place called the Burgers By the Bridge. It was in the English Village, in the shadow of the London Bridge. Our table was a surfboard and we had a view of the boat traffic on the channel as we ate.

On Monday, we paddled down the Bridgewater Channel under the London Bridge and walked on a trail along the shore. It was a great day for a paddle and to see some different sites along the trail. We enjoyed cooling off with a short swim at “our” beach. These short dips sure helped to deal with the 90 plus degree temperatures we had been feeling all week.

Tuesday morning we made a relatively short drive to Nellis Air Force Base, near Las Vegas.

When we got to Nellis AFB, we breathed a sigh of relief – there were mature trees in the campground and we had a couple that provided shade on the trailer. The FAMCAMP at Nellis AFB has received recognition for its quality and customer service, and continues to deliver on that reputation.

Nellis AFB is home to the USAF Weapons Center and is the host of the Red Flag exercises that train fighter pilots from the United States and around the world. Nellis is also the home of the Air Force Demonstration Team, the Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds have been representing the Air Force as ambassadors since 1953. There is a small museum at the headquarters.

Our primary purpose for stopping in Las Vegas was to see some friends from our RV caravan to Alaska in 2014. We met George and Ann for dinner and caught up on how they had been dealing with the pandemic. One of the stories they shared was that as they were driving to an airport to board a flight to Ecuador, they received a call telling them not to board their flight because their tour had been canceled. Talk about cutting it close! We had a great visit and we may be able to see them again in the fall.

On Tuesday we headed north for Gowan Field in Boise, Idaho.

About Michigan Traveler

Bob and his wife, Pat, are fulltime RVers. They sold their home in Michigan in June, 2011 and now travel the country, living on the road. Home is Where You Park It!
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2 Responses to Paddling Lake Havasu and Exploring Nellis AFB – May 2021

  1. Dave G says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful write up on our little town. We’ve been here for 29 years and have seen the town grow from a two stop light town to the one you experienced earlier in the month. The last weekend was Memorial Day. I would conservatively guess that over 75 percent of our visitors were from California. Interesting enough, locals stay off the lake on weekends and hunker down in their homes on Federal weekend holidays.

    Before I retired several years back. My professional duties included working on the river directly. Your comments about trash being left behind by tourists struck a chord as I could see it firsthand everywhere along the river. However the boaters bring in most of the summer business and money to the town.

    Winters bring in the Snow Birds. They’re more thrifty and tend to leave less trash behind. Winters here are delightful. Summers are brutal. Since my retirement, I’ve become a Snow Bird too and head North too.

    Havasu has become an expensive place to live. I probably couldn’t afford to buy a home here if I were looking in today’s market. Such is life in a tourist town…

    • Sandy Farrelly says:

      I live in Sun City,AZ and visited your delightful city in April! Boat tour of the lake by pontoon! Beautiful! Great shopping and
      wonderful restaurants! Had fun at the casino too! I will be back!,

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