En Route to Yuma
THE PARKER DAM AREA
About 16 miles south of Lake Havasu City, the Parker Dam holds back the waters of Lake Havasu. (It’s said to be the deepest dam in the world; 73% of its 320-foot height lies below the riverbed.) Beginning just above the dam and stretching south to the town of Parker is one of the most beautiful stretches of the lower Colorado River. Just before you reach the dam, you’ll come to the Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge (tel. 928/667-4144), which preserves the lower reaches of the Bill Williams River and its cattail-choked confluence with the Colorado River. This refuge offers some of the best bird-watching in western Arizona. Keep your eyes open for vermilion flycatchers, Yuma clapper rails, soras, Swainson’s hawks, and white-faced ibises.
Continuing south on U.S. 95, you’ll reach a dam overlook and the Take-Off Point boat launch. Below the dam, the river becomes narrow and red-rock canyon walls close in. Although this narrow gorge is lined with mobile-home parks, the most beautiful sections have been preserved in two state parks: Buckskin Mountain State Park (tel. 928/667-3231) and River Island State Park (tel. 928/667-3386). Both parks have campgrounds ($35–$40 for campsites or cabanas at Buckskin Mountain; $30 for campsites at River Island); campsites can be reserved online. There are also day-use areas that include river beaches and hiking trails leading into the Buckskin Mountains. The day-use fee is $10 per vehicle at either park. In this area you’ll also find the spectacular Emerald Canyon Golf Course.
The Desert Bar—Set on the site of an abandoned mine, the Desert Bar, officially known as the Nellie E Saloon, makes use of salvaged parts and scrap metal left over from the mining days. A covered footbridge leads to the saloon, and in the parking lot, there’s a steel “church” with a copper-roofed steeple. The bar is open from October through April, weekends only, from noon to 6pm. Expect live music and lots of retirees. From U.S. 95, turn east on Billy Mack Mine Rd. just north of Cienega Springs, fork right onto Cienega Springs Rd., and continue for 5 miles down a gravel road to the bar.
The Bouse Fisherman—If ancient rock art interests you, be sure to watch for Plomosa Road as you travel between Parker and Quartzsite. Off this road, you’ll find a 30-foot carving (or geoglyph) known as the Bouse Fisherman or, more formally, the Fisherman Intaglio. This primitive image of a person spearing fish was formed by scratching away the rocky crust of the desert soil. Its origin and age are unknown, but it is believed to have been created centuries ago by native peoples and may depict the god Kumastamo, who is said to have created the Colorado River by thrusting a spear into the ground. Approximately 6 miles north of Quartzsite, turn off U.S. 95 onto Plomosa Road and drive 8 miles east. There’s a quarter-mile trail to the site.
For much of the year, the community of Quartzsite is little more than a few truck stops at an interstate off-ramp, hot and dusty. But the population explodes with the annual influx of RV-dwelling winter visitors (also known as snowbirds), and from early January to mid-February, when the weather is downright perfect, warm during the day and mild at night, it’s the site of numerous gem-and-mineral shows that together attract hordes of rockhounds on their way to and from the bigger show in Tucson. Among these shows, the QIA Pow Wow (tel. 928/927-6325), held in late January, is one of the largest gem-and-mineral shows in the country. During the winter months, Quartzsite sprouts thousands of vendor stalls, as flea markets and the like are erected along the town’s main streets. It’s a paradise for thrift-hunters and fans of secondhand goods, antiques, and oddities alike. A variety of interesting food makes it a good place to stop for lunch or dinner. Be warned that from Quartzsite all the way up to Lake Havasu, accommodations in winter are scarce, so book as early as possible. When in Quartzsite, stop and pay your respects at a local landmark, the pyramid-shaped grave of a Syrian camel driver called Hadj Ali, or, as the locals called him, Hi Jolly.
For information on parking your RV in the desert outside Quartzsite, contact the Bureau of Land Management, Yuma Field Office, 2555 E. Gila Ridge Rd., Yuma (tel. 928/317-3200). Alternatively, you can get information and camping permits at the La Posa Long-Term Visitor Area, with entrance stations just south of Quartzsite on U.S. 95. The season runs from September 15 to April 15; a season permit costs $180 and a 14-day permit costs $40. Camping is free off-season.
KOFA NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
There are only a few places in Arizona where palm trees grow wild. One of them is 27 miles south of Quartzsite (turn off U.S. 95 18 miles south of Quartzsite). Palm Canyon lies within the boundaries of the 665,400-acre Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, which was formed primarily to protect the desert bighorn sheep that live in the rugged Kofa Mountains. At the end of a well-graded gravel road, it’s a short walk to the narrow canyon. Although there are fewer than 100 palm trees, the hike there is a great way to experience these mountains up close. Keep your eyes peeled for desert bighorn sheep. Incidentally, the Kofa Mountains took their name from the King of Arizona Mine. For maps and more information, contact the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, 9300 E. 28th St., Yuma (www.fws.gov/ refuge/kofa; tel. 928/783-7861).
A Mining Ghost Town in the Desert—Back in the 19th century, the mountains of this region were pockmarked with mines. To get an idea of what life was like in the mining boomtowns, make a detour to Castle Dome Mine Museum (tel. 928/920-3062), a reconstructed mining town in the southern reaches of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. Take the Castle Dome turnoff near milepost 55 on U.S. 95 and drive east another 10 miles (only 3 miles are paved; the rest is graded gravel). From October through April, the museum/ghost town is open daily from 10am to 5pm; call for hours at other times of year. Admission is $15 for adults and $7 for children (free for children 6 and under).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.