Lake Havasu City has blossomed into a hot recreation spot

Lake Havasu City, Ariz., offers a great getaway for a weekend or longer, especially during the cooler months of the year. The community feeds its visitors well and houses them in accommodations ranging from RV sites to resort suites. Visitors find wide variety in outdoor experiences, including all kinds of water-oriented activities. A busy schedule of special events appeals to many interests.

The planned community lies just 160 miles from Las Vegas beside scenic Lake Havasu in western Arizona, a desert lake with 400 miles of shore dubbed Arizona’s “coastline.” To reach Lake Havasu City, drive south from Las Vegas on U.S. 95 into California. Turn east on Interstate 40, crossing the Colorado River into Arizona near Needles, Calif. Follow I-40 to Arizona Highway 95, where you turn south toward Lake Havasu.

When Colorado River water began backing up behind Parker Dam in 1938, a new lake formed in a remote portion of the Mojave Desert between Arizona and California. At first, little-known Lake Havasu attracted few visitors because of its isolated location and the blistering summers in the region. Those who managed to get there, however, admired the lake’s superb desert and mountain scenery and its mild winter temperatures. After a while, the idea of a planned lakeshore development took root. Land acquired and plans drawn up, developers tried to interested potential investors. Many who investigated though the idea impractical, but enough approved that a town began to grow on the Arizona side of the lake.

Then industrialist-developer Robert McCullough brought international attention to the project when he purchased the famous London Bridge for nearly $2.5 million with the astounding idea of relocating it to Arizona. The old stone bridge had been condemned because it was sinking into the Thames River. Each block of the dismantled bridge numbered, the structure soon lay in pieces on the desert beneath the hot Arizona sun. McCullough planned that the reconstructed bridge would span a dredged arm of the desert lake in the city he envisioned.

Reassembled and dedicated in 1971, the bridge now carries the traffic of one of Lake Havasu City’s major boulevards. McCullough’s crazy concept remains one of the community’s premier attractions. The Tudor-style village at its base houses a popular collection of souvenir shops, boutiques and places to dine. When night falls, thousands of tiny lights lend a fairytale charm to the old bridge and the village. Many visitors end their busy days spent enjoying the town’s many attractions with dinner and drinks overlooking the bay and the London Bridge.

The growth of the city and the popularity of the lake as a recreation destination long ago silenced the scoffers who criticized development plans. Today a city of more than 55,000 residents spreads over the desert hills with lake views from most neighborhoods. Marinas, resorts, parks and shopping areas cluster near the island created by the dredging of the bridge channel and along the 45 miles of lakeshore within the city limits. Trails for walkers, joggers, bikers and skaters follow the gentle curves of the shoreline.

Visitors and residents alike enjoy activities on the lake. Using their own or rental watercraft, people fish, swim, water ski, canoe, kayak, jet ski, wind surf, parasail, houseboat and cruise upon the water. Land-based adventures include ATV tours, hot air ballooning, hang gliding, hiking, horseback riding and rock climbing. Several local courses attract golfers while other play tennis or go bowling. Campers find scenic campsites in local RV parks, two nearby state parks and one Bureau of Land Management recreation area.

The city develops an ambitious events schedule. A few of the events planned for April include truck and classic car shows, off-road races, fishing tournaments, golf tournaments, powerboat racing, motorcycle runs and spring break activities. For more information peruse the visitor and convention bureau’s Web site at www.golakehavasu.com or call (928) 453-3444. The site provides names and numbers for dozens of motels and resorts. Investigate condo and houseboat rentals which offer options for vacationers. Make reservations early, since Lake Havasu City is no longer too far off the beaten path to be popular.

Margo Bartlett Pesek’s column appears on Sundays.

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