Havasu Has It!
Trailering Magazine Archives - Destinations
When the Parker Dam was opened in 1938, the Colorado River started backing up, filling canyons and valleys, creating Lake Havasu. By the time the water leveled off, Havasu's eastern shoreline was in Arizona and the western shoreline, three miles away, was in California. The 45-mile-long lake provided water to San Diego and Los Angeles, and hydroelectric power to more than 70 municipalities. Lake Havasu operated as planned.
Then Robert McCulloch flew over the lake in 1958 looking for a place to build outboard motors (he was already building chainsaws). He bought some land for his factory and then bought another 3,500 acres with the idea that this would be a good place for a planned community. McCulloch hired C.V. Wood, who designed the layout for Disneyland to assist and within a few years, three plants were manufacturing two-stroke outboard engines and some of his 400 employees were living in the planned development called Lake Havasu City.
"The lake was a good place to use a test facility for the outboard motors, says Ken McKinney of Vessel Assist Lake Havasu, part of the TowBoatUS family on the west coast of the United States." The weather was good and the water was smooth but, in order to make his planned community on Lake Havasu into something people talked about, he had to come up with a tourism attraction."
McCulloch heard about a bridge that was for sale and that was enough to start the wheels in his creative head turning. The bridge was old, built in 1831, and would have to be disassembled into more than 10,000 pieces of granite weighing a total of more than 22 million tons. But there was one other little problem with the idea: it was the London Bridge, more than 9,000 miles from Lake Havasu City. McCulloch offered $2.5 million, got the bridge, had it taken apart and floated across the Atlantic and through the Panama Canal, then delivered to Long Beach California before being trucked to Lake Havasu. The structure was put back together on a peninsula called Pittsburgh Point, and then McCulloch dredged a mile-long channel under the (new) London Bridge. Today, Pittsburgh Point is called "the island" because, well, that's exactly what it is now and the channel, now called the Bridgewater Channel Canal, is known for having restaurants and docks on both sides, a no-wake zone, and being exceptionally crowded with boats on weekends. It's at the mid point of Lake Havasu's length and is, literally, the center of activity. And there's a lot of activity these days.
For example, this month the movie "Pirahna 3D" opens across the country. Filmed at Lake Havasu, with assistance from Vessel Assist's McKinney and starring Elizabeth Shue, Christopher Lloyd, and Richard Dreyfuss, it's a remake of a film from the "70"s about a tremor beneath the water that releases prehistoric man-eating fish.
"I haven't seen any piranhas," McKinney will quickly tell you, "but there's a lot of fishing tournaments here including BassWest, FLW Outdoors, and Bassmasters, most of whom launch at the Windsor Beach ramp in Lake Havasu State Park, just north of the London Bridge. " Many times, boaters participating in weekend tournaments will take advantage of the campsites in the park and keep their boats nearby. It needs to be pointed out that this state park and Cattail Cove State Park south of Lake Havasu City are among the nine that weren't shut down as a result of budget shortfalls this year. The fact that both are well-used by many of the lake's 2.5 million visitors each year is why they survived the budget ax. There have been discussions in Lake Havasu City government about taking over the Havasu Park if budget woes continue. Windsor Beach has three ramps, one designated for only jetskis, and can be busy on weekends.
Speaking of jetskis, you're going to see a lot of them on trailers coming into Lake Havasu. In fact, the International Jet Sports Boating Association (www.ijsba.com) has a World Finals tournament on the lake every October, attracting professional riders from as many as 30 countries. That's why Lake Havasu is called the "Personal Watercraft Capital of the World." But it's not just jetskis that congregate here. There's a group of Volkswagen van owners who have an annual get-together along the Havasu shores.
"This is truly a great thing, "McKinney notes. "From Lake Havasu City you're 22 miles from Parker Dam at the southern end of the lake. And going north, you're 28 miles from the quiet and narrow part of the Colorado River with granite cliffs on either side. And here along Bridgewater Channel, you've got everything you need within walking distance. Everything is close."
Which brings us to the channel. Because boats launch north of the bridge at Windsor Beach, many take the channel (it's a no-wake zone) to cross under the London Bridge before going out into Thompson Bay and into the main part of Lake Havasu. Add to this the boats coming from the south and using the channel and there can be serious traffic congestion on weekends. One way to avoid it all is to cross the London Bridge and go to Site Six (so named because it was an airfield for an emergency training base back in the 1940s) at the end of Pittsburgh Point. Here, you'll find a fishing pier and a free launch ramp that provides direct access to Lake Havasu.
If there's a single caution anyone with a boat needs to be aware of, it is this: sandbars. North of Windsor Beach boat ramp where the Colorado first meets Lake Havasu, there are numerous shallow areas and while some are obvious — you'll see people in deck chairs sitting next to their boats on a sand bar — just as many are unmarked. Here's why: Sandbars shift from week to week as a result of the Colorado River current produced by rains and dams opening upstream and downstream moving the water as fast as 8 knots.
"The sandbars in the lake are pretty well marked," says avid angler Scott Benes of www.havasufishing.com. "But when you're traveling up river from the main lake, they aren't always clearly marked and you must use caution and common sense in these areas, as it can get hectic when the river flows are decreased."
A good way to avoid a grounding is to follow another boat or one of the tour boats that make daily trips north from Lake Havasu City. Sandbars are a common call for McKinney's Vessel Assist fleet. "A lot of times a boater will feel the bottom hit the sandbar and think if they give it more power, they can chew their way through to deeper water," he says. "Well, sometimes it works, but I find that the engine can overheat because sand is sucked into the intakes or outdrives will break if they hit a sandbar at a high speed."
But once out of Bridgewater Channel and into Lake Havasu, McKinney, who also operates a tour boat on the lake (www.coloradoriverjetboattours.com) has a number of suggestions for sites to see:
Copper Canyon — Located on the California shoreline four miles south of Lake Havasu City, this is ground zero for spring break and holiday parties. While usually a quiet cove any other time of the year, Copper Canyon is where boats and beverages congregate (BoatUS urges every boat owner to have a designated non-drinking operator at the controls when the boat is in use). A high rock called Blind Leap is nearby and it's not uncommon for amateur cliff divers to try their luck dropping 200 feet to the water below. It should be noted that a number of divers have been killed trying this. Still, both the rock and the parties are part of many Lake Havasu scenes found on YouTube videos.
Blankenship Bend — Going north from Lake Havasu City where the Colorado River makes a sharp turn to the right, Blankenship Bend marks the beginning of Topock Gorge, a 13-mile-long narrow cut through the mountains. Just past the bend, there's another huge sandbar that has grounded numerous boaters who weren't paying attention. It's also a gathering place for folks seeking a chance to wade in shallow water with their boat nearby. Just past the bend you'll see the huge Mohave Rock to starboard. Farther north one can find Indian stone carvings in the river walls created hundreds of years earlier. Note: No waterskiing is allowed from the sandbars at the northern end of Lake Havasu all the way to the Highway 40 bridge.
Devils Elbow — Farther north the river makes another sharp bend to the right. A trailer boat can continue another 10 miles past the Interstate 40 bridge. This is a no-wake area.
Parker Dam — For obvious reasons, boats are kept clear of the dam with a floating barrier. And while it's probably a better view to see the worldÕs deepest dam by car (73 percent of its 382-foot depth is sunk below the riverbed), a boater can leave the dam to starboard and have lunch (or launch) at the Havasu Springs Marina on the California side of the lake. Just south of here is the Bill Williams Refuge Area with a buoy line that prohibits PWC's and has a no-wake zone.
For a boater with a family and a need for sun and scenery, Lake Havasu delivers. If you're looking for history, Havasu delivers. A good party? You know the answer. One might say, that was "the plan" from the get-go.