En Route to Yuma
The Parker Area
About 16 miles south of Lake Havasu City stands the Parker Dam, which holds back the waters of Lake Havasu and is said to be the deepest dam in the world because 73% of its 320-foot height is 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; http://southwest.fws.gov/refuges/arizona/billwill.html), which preserves the lower reaches of the Bill Williams 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, you'll reach a dam overlook and the Take-Off Point boat launch, where you can do some fishing from shore. 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; www.azstateparks.com) and River Island State Park (tel. 928/667-3386; www.azstateparks.com). Both parks have campgrounds ($25-$28 for campsites or cabanas at Buckskin Mountain; $23 for campsites at River Island), and a few of the campsites can be reserved. 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 (www.thedesertbar.com), which is 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 out in the parking lot, there's a steel "church" with a copper-roofed steeple. The bar is open Labor Day to Memorial Day, Saturday and Sunday from high noon until sunset. Expect live music and lots of retirees. To reach the Desert Bar, drive 4 miles north from Parker or 5 miles south from Buckskin Mountain State Park, and turn east on Cienega Springs Road. Continue 5 miles down a gravel road to the bar.
The Quartzsite Area
For much of the year, the community of Quartzsite is little more than a few truck stops at an interstate off-ramp. But the population explodes with the annual influx of winter visitors (also known as snowbirds), and from early January to mid-February it's the site of numerous gem-and-mineral shows that together attract hordes of rockhounds. Among these shows is the QIA Pow Wow (tel. 928/927-6325; www.qiaaz.org), which is held in late January and 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. A variety of interesting food makes it a good place to stop for lunch or dinner.
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; www.blm.gov/az/st/en/fo/yuma_field_office.html). Alternatively, you can get information and camping permits at the La Posa Long-Term Visitor Area entrance stations just south of Quartzsite on U.S. 95. The season here runs from September 15 to April 15, with permits going for $180 for the season and $40 for 14 consecutive days.
There are only three places in Arizona where palm trees grow wild, and one of those spots is 27 miles south of Quartzsite off U.S. 95 (watch for the turnoff 18 miles south of Quartzsite). Palm Canyon lies within the boundaries of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, which was formed primarily to protect the desert bighorn sheep that live here in the rugged Kofa Mountains. The palms are 9 miles off U.S. 95 in a narrow canyon a short walk from the end of the well-graded gravel road, and although there are fewer than 100 palm trees, the hike to see them provides an opportunity 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 (tel. 928/783-7861; www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/arizona/kofa).
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 City Mines Museum (tel. 928/920-3062), a reconstructed mining town in the middle of the desert. To find this place, turn east at the Castle Dome turnoff near milepost 55 and continue another 10 miles (only 3 miles are paved). In winter, the museum/ghost town is open daily from 10am to 5pm (closed Mon in spring and fall; in summer, open by appointment only), and admission is $6 for adults and $3 for children (free for children 6 and under). It's also possible to do a separate self-guided walking tour of the mining district for an additional $6 ($3 for children). If you do both tours, the charge is $10 for adults and $5 for children.
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 intaglio (or geoglyph) known as the Bouse Fisherman. 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 created the Colorado River by thrusting a spear into the ground. To find it, drive 8 miles up Plomosa Road, which is approximately 6 miles north of Quartzsite, and watch for a wide parking area on the north side of the road. From here, follow the trail for a quarter of a mile over a small hill.
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.