Lake Havasu: Paradise Lost

Paving Over Paradise

"Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got till it's gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot." Joni Mitchell wrote those words to "Big Yellow Taxi" on her first trip to Hawaii. She arrived late and when she threw back the curtains the next morning she saw beautiful green mountains in the distance. Then she looked down and saw a parking lot as far as the eye could see and the "blight on paradise," as she described it, broke her heart.

That's the way we felt when we were told that our favorite spot in Lake Havasu that overlooked the Colorado River soon would be turned into a park model. In fact, the whole row of lakefront sites, with the exception of four, are being converted and it broke our hearts.

Park model trailers are designed for long-term or permanent placement in RV resorts and they are gaining popularity with people for use as cottages, vacation cabins or retirement homes. In the United States, park models must remain under 400 square feet to qualify as a recreational vehicle under federal and state laws. Over that size they would be considered manufactured homes and subject to different taxes and regulations. We've tossed around the idea of buying one at Lake Havasu before, but always ended up preferring the flexibility of an actual home on wheels.

Park Models overlooking the marina at the Islander Resort in Lake Havasu.


Despite our disappointment, we made the most of our four days, knowing they would probably be our last here, by relaxing on the beach in front of our site and soaking up the sunshine, as well as enjoying front row seats to spectacular sunrises and sunsets and watching watercraft zoom and zip past us. It seemed noisier and busier than our last visit. Everyone in Lake Havasu seemed to have some sort of noisy motorized vehicle, be it a power boat, fishing boat, jet ski, motorcycle, scooter, ATV or golf cart - and sometimes all of the above. Even dogs were walked from slow-moving golf carts! Even the skies were dotted with small planes, ultralight aircraft and a helicopter. At first we enjoyed the entertainment, but after four days the constant mosquito-like humming of engines and the cacophony of revving motors, loud music and screaming water skiers became annoying. We realized suddenly that perhaps this wasn't the paradise we thought it was after all.

The birding was a little disappointing, being at an awkward time of the year between lingering summer migrants and the arrival of wintering birds. Most fun to watch were the Pied-billed and Western Grebes, who were busy teaching their young ones how to fish with some surprisingly good results. There's a photo in the gallery that follows of Mom who seems utterly surprised to see what Junior pulled up out of the water. One day when I was out with Ellie (and not my camera!) I stumbled onto a juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron and a Green Heron secretly tucked away in the roots of shrubs along the bank in the marina. I was able to find and photograph the Green Heron again (in fact two), but I never saw the Night-Heron again, unfortunately.

The Mighty Colorado River

With more than 500 miles of the Colorado River either running through the state or forming its border, the Colorado River is a major part of Arizona. The abundance of federal dams and reservoirs along its length helps to control floods, stores water for farms and cities in the lower Colorado River basin and provides recreational opportunities. South of Lake Havasu, the river runs through wildlife refuges and wilderness areas and has limited access. There is river recreation north of Yuma, but south of the border the Colorado River dries up in the desert north of the Sea of Cortez. Lake Havasu sits on the eastern shore behind Parker Dam on the border between California and Arizona and was built by the United States Bureau of Reclamation between 1934 and 1938.

How The Heck Did the London Bridge Wind Up in Arizona?

Originally, the vacant land around what is now Lake Havasu City was an abandoned military landing strip and given to the state of Arizona by the U.S. Federal Government. Robert McCulloch, chairman of the McCulloch Oil Corporation, made a deal with the state and received the property for free with a promise that he develop the land. He built Lake Havasu City as a retirement community, but because the development was isolated far from centers of population in a very hot, dry climate, it was difficult to attract prospective buyers.

In 1962, his enterprising real estate agent, Robert Plumber, heard that the London Bridge, which served as a crossing over the River Thames in London, England for more than 140 years, was "falling down," literally sinking into the Thames. He predicted that the bridge would attract potential land buyers to the area and convinced McCullough to submit the winning bid for $2.5 million. In 1968, McCullough spent another $7 million to move the bridge to Lake Havasu City, which took a total of three years. The bridge's facing stones were disassembled, numbered and transported by sea and land and re-assembled. The original stone was used to clad a new concrete structure that was built on land between the main part of the city and a peninsula jutting into Lake Havasu. Once completed, a channel was dredged under the bridge and flooded, creating an island.

The brilliant marketing scheme worked, setting the city apart from other desert playgrounds, and land sales improved. Since McCullough had obtained the land at no cost, the sale of the properties paid for the bridge, the shipping and more. Recent years have seen much development in the area of the bridge to increase tourist interest with a quaint English-style open-air village to replace the original mall was undertaken by the Lake Havasu City Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Time to Move On

As Joni Mitchell noted, nothing stays the same. It's a shame that we won't be returning to the Islander Resort, but we did scout out the four state parks located north and south of the city and were delighted to discover they are in some of the most alluring spots along the river. Although not as luxurious as the resort, they are also not as large and populated and are nestled in peaceful canyon-walled coves or set on white beaches far from the hustle and bustle of the city. It may just be that we've found another slice of paradise after be continued!

Thanks for taking the time to travel to Lake Havasu with me. I hope you'll take a look at the photo gallery that follows. Click on one to view as a slide show.

3 thoughts on “Lake Havasu: Paradise Lost”

  1. You still got some very nice shots. I haven’t been to Havasu since the mid-80s. I had a boyfriend then who had a Hobie Cat so we went once a year to some Hobie event and stayed at the Nautical Inn and sailed constantly. Is that still there?

    I’ve never heard of park models before. Interesting concept, I guess. Not sure I would want to live at Havasu permanently, though, since it seems even hotter than Phoenix and I do remember it being very busy and loud whenever we went. Sorry it’s not the same as it used to be for you…

    1. Thanks, Candace. Yes, I do believe the Nautical is still there and I agree, I would not want to live in Lake Havasu City year ’round. It is very hot with not a lot of trees and vegetation. Normally we avoid the spring break and summer vacation crowds when it becomes too jammed with people, cars and water toys for me; I never suspected they’d still be around in October! I prefer a more natural and peaceful environment. However, they do have a hot air balloon festival in February that is worth the drive and the area is far less crowded.

  2. Lyndie,
    I enjoy very much reading and re-reading your blog(s). You include so many great pictures that I feel like I was there. Aloha. PS. I hope you plan to do one about birdy Verrado!

Comments are closed.