Lake Havasu Success

Lake Havasu City’s Success

From an article by Jerry Nachtigal, The Associated Press

First, foremost and above all, there is the heat. Mind-boggling, thermostat-busting, brain-baking, you-must-be-kidding heat. Summertime temperatures are around 120 degrees. Overnight lows are in the 80s. A relentless, endless dry sauna from May into October.

“You learn that you sweat places that you didn´t think possible,” says Bonnie Barness, a tourism promoter who moved here from North Dakota.

Secondly, the location is inconvenient. Lake Havasu City lies in the middle of nowhere along the Arizona-California line, along the desolate line where the Mohave and Sonoran deserts meet.

Phoenix lies 205 miles away; Tucson and Los Angeles, 315 miles; Las Vegas, 150. And there is no interstate highway or railroad through the city, just a commuter airline offering a handful of daily flights to Phoenix and Los Angeles.

There is simply no good reason for Lake Havasu City to exist. Yet it is thriving all these years after it was established by Robert P. McCulloch, founder of chain saw maker McCulloch Corp., who came here looking for a motor testing site.

The main reason is Lake Havasu itself.

The name, pronounced HAVE-a-soo, is a Havasupai Indian word meaning blue-green water. And it is those deep, clean and inviting waters that attract visitors and breathe life into a young city that wasn´t incorporated until 1978.

Just as Bugsy Siegel saw gold in the desert that eventually became the Las Vegas strip, McCulloch looked out upon the wasteland and envisioned a retirement community filled with stucco houses rising above the river toward the Mohave Mountains.

There was no town when McCulloch landed here in 1963, only an abandoned military landing strip and a lake artificially formed by the damming of the Colorado River 25 years earlier. But McCulloch brought 100 mobile homes to house his workers, and soon a few businesses and houses were built.

McCulloch hired C. V. Wood, the architect who designed Disneyland, to plan a city spread over 26 square miles. Largely as a tourism gimmick, he bought London Bridge, which was scheduled for demolition, and shipped it in from England block by block. The bridge spans a manmade lake channel leading to a small island featuring a shopping mall, restaurants and campgrounds.

The McCulloch Corp. for years was the city´s leading employer, but the company eventually closed its plant and filed for bankruptcy, putting 450 out of work.

It could have been catastrophic. But tourism and the sheer livability of Lake Havasu City proved to be its salvation. The area attracts over 1 million visitors a year, and they easily contribute $100 million to the economy.

Lake Havasu offers 450 miles of shoreline and open water for swimming, angling and sailing. It is the site of international Jet Ski championships, power boat competitions and national bass fishing contests.

Long weekends fill the city´s motel rooms and campsites. Sleek cigar boats with growling inboard motors prowl the lake and head for Copper Canyon, a renowned party spot. During spring break, college students by the thousands rent houseboats and motel rooms or camp out.