A Bridge in the Desert

With John Mellencamp we can now sing: “I have seen the London Bridge in the middle of the desert.” On this trip we have encountered a multitude of interesting sights and stories and didn’t plan a stay in Lake Havasu City just to see the London Bridge. Nevertheless, the London Bridge story captured my imagination as we watched a video clip about it on our brief visit to the city’s Visitor Center to pick up some hiking maps.

Why would there be a London Bridge in the middle of the desert? Lake Havasu City sits on the Arizona side of the Colorado River but you can’t even cross the river here. The closest place to cross is on Parker Dam 20 miles downstream. London Bridge spans a channel that was dug at the base of a peninsula on Lake Havasu, creating an island. The island is the destination you reach when you cross over the bridge from the city. So obviously this bridge in the desert does not serve the usual function one expects for a bridge.

London Bridge was constructed here in 1967-1971, using the original masonry from the dismantled London Bridge that was built in 1830 to span the Thames River in London. After being used to transport London traffic for over 100 years, it was decided that a new bridge was needed and the old one was put up for sale. Robert P. McCulloch, a wealthy entrepreneur from St. Louis, purchased the bridge from the City of London and paid to have it dismantled and shipped to the US. He had obtained the desert land that is now Lake Havasu City free from the government with the caveat that he develop the land. No one wanted to live in this hot, arid climate and he needed a way to attract people to the area. Building the London Bridge here was a gimmick to attract tourists and sell the idea that this is a great place to live.

Robert McCulloch didn’t have to build the London Bridge to convince me that this is a great place to live. A hot, arid climate is my ideal, especially when it is the middle of February and a huge swath of the country, including our hometown, is experiencing a record breaking cold spell. We had to put up with a couple of windy days here as the massive cold front moved across the US but have enjoyed moderate 60-70 temperatures every day. It’s been perfect hiking weather. The hiking opportunities aren’t as plentiful as they were in southeastern Arizona, but we have managed to find some interesting spots.

Friends of ours who used to live near us in northern Virginia are on an extended RV trip around the US and were camped at Island Lake State Park near Lake Havasu. Our first couple of days here were spent catching up on news of their past year of travels and hiking with them on trails near their camp.

When they left to continue their travels we looked at hiking destinations we could explore for the remainder of our time here. We had been told about a trail called “Crack in the Mountain” at SARA park. Not only was the name of the trail puzzling but it seemed like a strange name for a park. Looking at the map we obtained at the visitor center, I realized that SARA was not a woman’s name but was an abbreviation for “Special Activities Recreation Area.” As for “Crack in the Mountain”, it was another way to refer to a slot canyon. Overall, it was an enjoyable hike, but I was glad that it was a loop trail and we only had to go through the slot canyon one time. Some people think it’s great fun and go through it both on the way out and the way back. But I found it quite scary and claustrophobic and was relieved when we got to the end of it.

We joked about the trail that we hiked the next day. That one was called Dead Burro Canyon and the directions were so poor that we wandered for 7.5 miles in the desert and never figured out if we actually got to the right place. What we did see before turning around was a group of 6 wild burros making their way up a slope in the distance. I named our hike for the day “Live Burro Canyon.”

We have one more day here to do some hiking before we say goodbye to the bridge in the desert. Fortunately, we will still have a couple of days in Arizona before it’s time to head back to Albuquerque. I don’t think I’m quite ready to face the cold weather, but I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

Seventh Heaven

To say that we have hiked every day for the past 6 days might make it sound like we are on some sort of long distance trek or backpacking excursion.  But our modus operandi for a day of hiking is that we get in the car in the morning, drive an hour or so, park at a trailhead, hike 6 or 7 miles to explore some canyon or mountain ridge and then have plenty of time left in the day for a relaxed dinner and evening at home.  I’m happy if we are able to do that once or twice a week.  I was in seventh heaven this week when we got to do it every single day.

Last January we spent several days in Sierra Vista, Arizona, as a winter getaway from the Albuquerque cold and enjoyed some hiking then. But this past year, as Lee continued researching the area, he pointed out that if we stayed closer to Benson, Arizona, we would be centrally located for an even wider range of hiking opportunities.  We found a cute short term rental casita in St. David, where we have been staying for the week.  We couldn’t have asked for better weather and with no other obligations to hold us back we have hiked every day, each day in a different area.

Day 1

The first day was a 6.7 mile out and back on the Cochise Trail in the Dragoon Mountains.

Day 2

The second day was a section of the Arizona Trail in the Patagonia Mountains.  We had hiked south on a section of this trail last year.  From Patagonia the north section starts off on forest road and then has an option for a side trail up Temporal Gulch.  Most of our 8 and a half miles on this hike was on the forest road, since it was further than we had expected to the Temporal Gulch trailhead.

Day 3

Several years ago we had spent a couple of days hiking at Chiricahua National Monument.  There aren’t a lot of trails there, but it is an awe inspiring place with unusual rock formations.  On our previous visit we hadn’t done the Natural Bridge Trail, a 5 mile out and back hike.  It didn’t go through the area with the rocks that I had remembered but it was a pleasurable hike, nevertheless.

Day 4

This was the hottest day of hiking and the longest, but, fortunately, not a lot of elevation gain.  We were hiking with a friend and that made the hours on the trail pass quickly.  We did 9.5 miles out and back in the Rincon Mountains.  We started on the Hope Camp Trail which intersects the Arizona Trail on a section called the Quilter Trail.  We went partway up that to keep on our Arizona Trail theme.  The views were good and many of the slopes sprouted large fields of Saguaro Cacti, always a pleasure to see.

Day 5

Although there was some steep uphill, I think this was my favorite hiking place.  We were on a section of the Arizona Trail that is almost at the southern terminus.  We drove to Montezuma Pass at Coronado National Monument and took the short hike from the parking lot to Coronado Peak before heading in the other direction to climb north into the Huachuca Mountains.  Lots of elevation in a short number of miles, but awesome views over the San Pedro River Valley and into Mexico.

Day 6

Today’s hike was up Brown Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains just to the west of Sierra Vista. We had hiked a trail close to this one last year that basically stayed on the lateral as it went between two canyons. There was less snow this year on the mountain so we figured we could go higher up into the canyon. It was pleasant forested hiking, but not many views.

Saying Goodbye

Tomorrow we leave our St. David casita, but, happily, it is to continue on to another part of Arizona where we will explore new hiking destinations.