Points of Interest Along the Colorado River
Aubrey LandingThe ghosts of more than a century ago may emit bubbles beneath your boat as you pass over the inundated site of this historic place.
Directly north of Take-Off Point and 75 feet below the lake´s surface lies all evidence of the place that some referred to as “Aubrey Cit.” Landing or city, Aubrey was already important to trade along the Colorado River only a year after Arizona became a Territory in 1863. The city at its busiest boasted 50 frontier-style buildings and a population entirely dependent on the freighting of supplies by steam boats and wagons to and from gold, silver, and copper mines in the region. It was named for Francis Zavier Aubrey, a Canadian freighter, herder and rider noted for taking wagons, flocks, and himself rapidly and safely over long, unfriendly western routes. While his landing and “city” are gone forever, his name was destined to live on when it was applied to the Aubrey Hills on Lake Havasu´s southeast shore.
Balanced RockIn the far reaches of Balance Rock Bay, on the left shore, is a masterpiece of erosion. A clack sold-rock mass weighing many tons is balanced precariously atop a slip pedestal of softer conglomerate. Infrequent storms over thousands of years have sent streams of water to swirl around the base and slowly erode it.
Bill Williams River and MarshThe stream is only 75 miles long, but it has consistently had a role in Arizona´s history ever since the Spaniard Esperjo claimed to have led (in 1583) a handful of soldiers to about where Parker Dam now stands. Juan de Onate, with 39 soldiers and two priests, arrived at the same point in 1598. During the next 200 years, all manner of prospectors, trappers, mountain men, and adventurers followed along a channel that, more often than not, contained no water. Bill Williams was all those things and a preacher, too. He found the river in 1837 and was murdered by Utes 12 years later. In 1851, the channel was named in his honor.
The river´s most recent historical play was on Jan.1, 1983 when it was designated as the northern boundary of La Paz County. The marsh is noted for its inclusion in the three-part Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. Small boats may enter the shallow, buoyed marsh area to study birds and to fish but must proceed at a no-wake speed.
Gauging Station CableThe steel wire spanning the river about two and one-half miles downstream from Topock provides monitors with a means to gauge the varying depth and flow of the stream. The two white crosses beneath the east tower recall a tragedy that no one could have anticipated when the cable was strung here many years ago. On April 5, 1987, a group of boaters floating down the river were horrified to see a small airplane fly low between high walls of the narrow gorge and collide with the cable. The plane was severed, and its parts and two passengers spilled into the stream. Bodies of Rocky Tolman, the pilot, and Douglas Casper, his passenger, both residents of Fort Mohave, Arizona, were recovered some days later. The crosses were placed by relatives to honor their memory.
Gene Wash CanyonThis is the lake´s longest narrow tributary watercourse. Its sheer black lava-rock cliffs are festooned with red-needled, fishhook barrel cactuses that seem to have a special liking for the region. Near the end of the waterway, a lone, robust Washingtonia Palm tree stands proudly on the left shore. High on the right shore is a precarious road that services the Whitsett Intake Pumping Plant.
Havasu Pumping PlantLocated at the end of a long waterway near the mouth of Arizona´s Bill Williams River Marsh, this unique facility houses six huge vertical-shaft, 60,000 horsepower, motor-driven pumps, each capable of forcing 500 cubic feet of Lake Havasu water per second through 12-foot diameter pipelines to a height of 825 feet above the lake. There the flow enters a seven-mile-long tunnel within La Paz County´s Buckskin Mountains, emerging to continue through 335 miles of concrete-lined canals, inverted siphons, tunnels, reservoirs, pumping plants, and pipelines of the Central Arizona Project. The water, approximately 1.5 million acre-feet annually, will serve the ever-growing needs of Pinal and Pima Counties. The visible building containing the Havasu pumps belies its true size; 93 feet of structure exists below the lake surface. The Central Arizona Water Conservation District maintains the pumping plant, which is closed to the public.
Lake Havasu State ParkAlong 200 miles of shoreline is a wide variety of arid-land plants, shrubs and trees, innumerable birds and waterfowl, and many other desert creatures.
Boaters on the lake will often see doves, quail, gulls, gees, ducks, hawks, herons, pelicans, and even eagles along the shores or in the skies overhead. But the animals of the park are wary and are most active in the cool hours of darkness.
There is also a cactus garden in the middle of a 1.5 mile-long trail just north of the London Bridge channel area.
Lava Arches and CavesVolcanic rocks along both shores of the lake contain many unusual, often spectacular formations. At least four very large natural arches (or “wind tunnels”) grace skylines. Shallow caves, large and small, are everywhere within the lava deposits.
Some of those wonders of nature were created eons ago as molten magma exploded out of vents quickly cooling to harden in immutable forms. Others were fashioned by gases that caused bubbles inside igneous masses, then burst on tact with the atmosphere. Erosion by wind and water over two billion years sculpted many more of the lava-rock features.
London BridgeThis was the most famous bridge in England, one of 14 great spans across the Thames River. Now, having been moved stone by stone half way around the globe, it may be the most famous bridge in the world. It had served Londoners for 137 years before 20th century traffic demanded more than its two lanes. In the spring of 1968, the late Robert P. McCulloch purchased the bridge at auction for $2,460,000 and had its 10,276 granite blocks hipped 10,000 ocean-miles to Long Beach, California via the Panama Canal. Then a fleet of trucks carried the great stone 300 highway miles to their new home, where 40 craftsmen spent 23 months reassembling the bridge.
No river flowed at the new site. Local sands were shaped into mounds providing natural forms for erection of the structure´s five shapely keystone arches. Finally, a dredge removed 2,300,000 cubic yards of earth and rock to form a mile-long canal whose water rose beneath the arches. What had been Pittsburg Point and “Site Six” became an island served by the handsome bridge.
The span is 928 feet long, 63 feet wide. A tunnel within it carries utility lines to the island. Total cost of moving and rebuilding the bridge and creating its canal was $7.5 million. On October 10, 1971, London Bridge at Lake Havasu City was dedicated by Lord Mayor of London and the Governor of Arizona as 50,000 people looked on. A decade later, the structure was deeded to the city´s citizens; it is now a municipal facility. Mr. McCulloch died in 1977; the bridge is a fitting memorial to his unique and daring spirit.
Parker DamThis handsome concrete barrier created Lake Havasu in 1938. Four years were required to build it. Engineers call it “the world´s deepest dam” because undesirable tertiary sediments of the Colorado River´s stream bed at the dam site required an excavation of 235 feet to expose the harder bedrock on which its 100-foot thick base was placed. Thus, a boater on the lake sees mostly superstructure, only about 60 feet of the dam´s entire 382-foot height.
The dam´s major purpose is to capture Colorado River water that can be pumped west into the aqueduct system serving to cities of Los Angeles and San Diego, and east into the Central Arizona Project Canal, carrying water to counties in central and southern Arizona. A secondary purpose, hydroelectric power, is created by four huge generators within the dam´s powerhouse. With 5,500 cubic feet of water per second charging through 22-foot diameter penstocks to spin their turbines, the combined power output can total 120,000 kilowatts.
Parker Dam is a “bridge” as well as a dam; a 40-foot wide road across its 856-foot-long crest connects California´s State Route 62 with Arizona´s Route 95. A person astride the invisible state line at dam center could conceivably be standing in both states at the same time.
The dam was named because of its proximity to the town of Parker, Arizona. When the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway reached the river in 1905, the town of Parker was moved upstream to be served by it. The city of Parker is now the county seat for new
La Paz County.
The dam is open to the public every day of the year, offering self-guided tours. It is maintained by the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Pilot RockThis austere lava-rock promontory is a landmark that tells boaters Lake Havasu´s west-bound course makes an abrupt turn to the north. Undoubtedly it was named in pre-lake days by steamboat pilots who respected a similar “dog-leg” in the Colorado River´s channel.
Old maps reveal 28 important riverside landings between the Gulf of California and a point upstream about where the northern extremity of Lake Mead is today. There were at least 10 significant, profitable, enduring sternwheelers that plied the river´s erratic flow in years marked by mining booms and military operations.
The era of the steamboats came slowly to a close with the arrival of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad and construction of its cantilever bridge across the river at Topock in 1890, the advent of the Santa Fe in Parker in 1905, and, finally, the construction of Laguna Dam 14 miles up-river from Yuma.
Today, Pilot Rock´s value to the modern boater is confined to the navigation light that nightly blinks from its crest.
Saguaro CactusThe shores of Lake Havasu are within the northernmost reaches of the Sonoran Desert, a vast area of 120,000 square miles that splays out from the international boundary into the southwestern United States and Mexico. The stately saguaro, “skyscraper of desert flora,” is the largest and most famous of all the cacti within that arid-lands region. Only a few of the great “trees” grow here because their life zone ends midway between Parker and Davis Dams. One that stands beside the Gene Pumping Plan Road on the California shore may be 150 years old and contain several tons of water. Indians mashed its pulp to obtain liquid and harvested its juicy red fruit for food.
Topock GorgeWith construction of dams along the lower Colorado River, most of the narrow and spectacular chasms carved by its flow through desert regions were inundated by the resulting lakes of Mead, Mohave, and Havasu. One outstanding exception is this slim scenic gorge through which the stream winds, not at Topock but five miles below it, 15 miles north of London Bridge. Although the narrows referred to as Topock Gorge extend for less than two miles, the ravines on either end of it are relatively confined and scenic, too, providing a total of six miles of awe-inspiring Mohave Canyon waterway, beginning at Picture Rock and continuing northward to Mohave Wash Cove. That stretch is also popular with anglers; a good many sizable rainbow trout and other fish are taken from waters here each year.
All of Mojave Canyon and its Topock Gorge are within Havasu National Wildlife Refuge where waterfowl and other birds abound in and above the bulrushes of many marshland habitats. Only boaters and hikers are permitted here. There are no vehicular accesses to the shores.
The remoteness of the gorge region presented no barrier to the early people of the Colorado River Indian tribes. Each aboriginal site and artifact represents a priceless page in the continuing chronicle of a culture about which virtually nothing is knows. For that reason, today´s Native Americans (who believe such places to be holy), together with agencies that administer historic lands, discourage visitations to artifact sites by the public.
Whipple PointAs early as 1849, just a year after much of the American West had been acquired from Mexico, soldier-surveyor Amiel Weeks Whipple was locating a new international boundary between the two countries. A West Point graduate assigned to the U.S. Corps of Topographical Engineers, Whipple was next sent to survey a possible rail route linking Midwestern states with California. He began the task at Fort Smith, Arkansas, and then went Albuquerque, from where he led 16 wagons and 120 men westward. On February 20, 1854, he rode down the Bill Williams River and stood on the banks of the Colorado about where Parker Dam is today.
Near starvation, and forced to abandon his expedition´s wagons, Lt. Whipple and his troops were befriended by Mohave Indians who guided the party upstream to a ford where they crossed and continued their journey to Los Angeles. Whipple, later a Union general, was killed in action during the infamous rout at Chancellorsville in May 1863. Whipple Point Bay and Wash, and the mountains to the southwest of them, are all named in honor of General Whipple.
Whitsett Intake Pumping PlantThree big, glistening pipes rise from the largest building on Lake Havasu´s California shore, just north of Parker Dam. They mark the threshold of one of man´s great hydraulic engineering feats; the Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District´s Colorado River Aqueduct. Within the long concrete structure from which pipes extend are nine big pumps of 9,000 horsepower. Each can push 200 cubic feet of water from the lake to a tunnel 281 feet above in one second of time! Emerginy, the water pours into Gene Wash Reservoir. Most of it then begins a journey of 242 miles from within Whipple Mountains to Lake Mathews near Riverside, California.
From there, the water continues for many more miles, splaying out through a system serving users in an area of 5,200 square miles. (Another portion of the aqueduct´s water goes to San Diego and Riverside counties). Along its flow from the Whitsett plant, Havasu´s water travels through 92 miles of 16-foot diameter tunnels and 150 miles of canals and conduits and 144 inverted siphons. By the time it reaches Lake Mathews, the water has been lifted to an elevation of 1,807 feet, the allowed to drop to near sea level.
The pumping plant on Havasu´s shore is named for W. P. Whitsett, an early 20th century Los Angeles businessman, civic leader and water commissioner elected in 1928 as the Water District Board´s first chairman. It was the aqueduct project that prompted construction of Parker Dam (paid for by the Water District) and formation of Lake Havasu.
Whyte´s Loop TrailBeginning at the boat-launch ramp in Cattail Cove State Park, this mile-and-a-half-long nature trail features cliff-top views of Lake Havasu, an interesting “slot” canyon carved into one of the few exposed sandstone outcroppings of the region, and a good variety of desert plants. The trail leads to Whyte´s Retreat boat camp, and then returns through lava-rock taluses of the Aubrey Hills where many caves and “pocks” are in evidence. Creosote bush and crucifixion cactus are most obvious here. At trail´s end, in a broad arroyo, big Palo Verde trees grow in profusion.
– Article written by Lake Havasu Boater´s Guide and Marine Directory 2003