Arizona’s West Coast is formed not by the Pacific Ocean, but by the Colorado River. Separating Arizona from California and Nevada are 340 miles of Colorado River waters, most of which are impounded in three huge reservoirs—Lake Mead, Lake Mohave, and Lake Havasu—that provide water and electricity to such sprawling southwest metropolises as Phoenix and Las Vegas.

It’s just a matter of time before the Big One hits and California goes tumbling into the churning waters of the Pacific Ocean. So went the popular thinking in the 1970s, when I moved to Arizona, with the logical conclusion that when that happened, our landlocked state would gain a whole bunch of beachfront property. Thus was the idea of Arizona’s “West Coast” born, pitching the hot, dry, newly developing western corridor of the Grand Canyon State to retirees and entrepreneurs.
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It worked. Bordering the Colorado River, Arizona’s West Coast became a destination for winter visitors and college students on spring break. The historically important but quiet port of Yuma began to boom, while Parker and Quartzsite became prime destinations for RV-borne winter visitors and Lake Havasu City sprouted resort hotels. Those three huge manmade lakes with their thousands of miles of shoreline draw boaters, water-skiers, campers, bird-watchers, and anglers throughout the year—which explains why you see so many small boats parked in carports and backyards throughout Arizona.

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Across the river from Bullhead City, Arizona, a miniature version of Las Vegas has grown up on the banks of the Colorado, in Laughlin, Nevada. An Indian casino downriver in Parker also does a thriving trade.

Arizona’s West Coast is lined with lakefront resorts, hotels, RV parks, and campgrounds. It’s a destination popular with Arizonans themselves, and the hotels or resorts are far less expensive than those in Phoenix, Tucson, or Sedona. People out this way prefer less elaborate lodgings, and especially rented houseboats, floating vacation homes that are immensely popular with families and groups. A fine getaway is to travel on the river to London Bridge, brought over stone by stone to Lake Havasu from England half a century ago and now one of Arizona’s biggest tourist attractions.