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Camels, Gold Mines & Sky Walks
By Edie Jarolim
Mostly known for its splashy outdoor activities, Arizona’s west coast also beckons with fascinating manmade sights and natural attractions
Explore the western part of the state with this itinerary in hand. The first part of the itinerary guides you to the towns on and near the banks of the Colorado; the second takes you inland along legendary Route 66. Plan to spend one night each in Yuma, Parker and Lake Havasu City, and two nights in Kingman. All offer a wide range of hotels and motels.
Start your trip in Yuma, a thriving modern city with a friendly small-town feel. Among the highlights of its downtown, designated a National Heritage Area by the U.S. Congress, is Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park. In 1893, the now infamous lockup was dubbed the “country club on the Colorado” for such ahead-of-its-time amenities as flush toilets and electricity. Yuma State Historic Park preserves several original buildings on the site of the Quartermaster Depot that supplied all the United States forts in the Southwest, while the Sanguinetti House Museum is the only branch of the Arizona Historical Society that includes live birds among its collections.
Heading north, you pass the Imperial, Cibola and Kofa National Wildlife Refuges, the first two teeming with waterbirds, the latter a magnet for bighorn sheep, before arriving in Quartzite. This sleepy desert town awakes in winter, when its population swells from about 3,600 to more than one million with the arrival of visitors for the annual gem and mineral shows. Quartzite is home to the Hi Jolly Monument, a tribute to camel driver Hadji Ali, enlisted in an unsuccessful mid-19th century attempt by the U.S. Army to employ desert-savvy dromedaries in the Southwest.
Continue north to Parker, the anchor of the 16-mile-long riverside Parker Strip. The land belongs in part to the Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT), a unique union of the Mohave, Chemehuevi, Navajo and Hopi people. They operate the $50-million BlueWater Resort & Casino, a bustling entertainment complex with a concert hall and marina.
The Strip’s more unusual features include restaurants with floating bars; upscale neighborhoods with watery streets like Venice; and a top-rated golf course that flanks two sides of I-95. If you have a high-clearance vehicle, take the
dirt road to the ghost town of Swansea, once the headquarters of the Clara Consolidated Gold and Copper Mining Company.
It’s less than an hour from Parker to Lake Havasu City, which got international attention for its piece-by-piece transport of London Bridge to the desert. Since the project’s completion in 1971, when a channel was dredged to provide the structure with water to span, visitors come to ogle the bridge, shop in the adjacent English Village and play with water toys on Lake Havasu, the shores of which are lined with a series of lighthouses, each a reduced-scale model of one on the United States’ East and West Coasts. The Lake Havasu Museum of History provides background to the city – pre- and post-bridge.
Head northeast from Lake Havasu City to Oatman – a ghost town at night, but during the day lively with simulated gunfights and people feeding wild burros (descended from those once used in the nearby mines). For a glimpse of the past, tour the Gold Road Mine, where gold was extracted as recently as 1998.
A spectacular, if somewhat white-knuckle, drive from Oatman through the Black Mountains on a narrow section of Route 66 brings you to Kingman, where the excellent Historic Route 66 Museum shares space with the town’s visitors center in the historic Powerhouse building. Along with showcasing such classic Route 66 artifacts as a muscle car and Texaco station, the museum traces the metamorphosis of the early trade and wagon routes into the world’s most famous highway. The nearby Mohave Museum of History and Arts focuses on the area’s rich history and heritage of the people who helped found Mohave County.
Take a 100-mile scenic joy ride on the longest continuous stretch of old Route 66 from Kingman to Seligman, the nostalgia-inducing town that led the drive to preserve the historic road. You’ll pass the old railroad town of Hackberry and the Frontier Motel & Cafe in Peach Springs. If you have time, descend into Grand Canyon Caverns, an ancient cave system that hosts the world’s deepest motel room (220 feet below sea level).
From Kingman, it’s 70 miles – about eight of them along a graded dirt road – to Grand Canyon West, a remote section of the famed abyss that belongs to the Hualapai Nation. Tour packages, including a permit, are required for entry. The top draw is the transparent glass Grand Canyon Sky Walk that juts out from a soaring cliff. Lie down on it and you’ll feel as though you’re floating on air above one of the world’s seven natural wonders.
Grand Canyon Caverns
Phone: (928) 422-4565
Grand Canyon West
Phone: (928) 769-2636
Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona
Phone: (928) 753-5001
Kingman Tourism & Visitors Bureau
Phone: (928) 753-6106
Lake Havasu City Convention & Visitors Bureau
Phone: (928) 453-3444
National Wildlife Refuges (information on Cibola and Imperial)
National Wildlife Refuges (information on Kofa Preserves)
Oatman Chamber of Commerce
Phone: (928) 768-6222
Parker Area Tourism
Phone: (928) 669-6511
Quartzsite Chamber of Commerce
Phone: (928) 927-5600
Yuma Visitors Bureau
Phone: (800) 293-0071