Located on the lower Colorado River, Parker, Arizona, makes a great winter destination for Southern Nevadans seeking a full-day outing or a longer getaway. Its elevation of about 400-450 feet means mild winters, about 5-15 degrees warmer than Boulder City, so visitors can still take advantage of all sorts of outdoor activities.
Parker lies south of Lake Havasu along U.S. Highway 95. From Lake Havasu City you’ll drive about 25 miles and will presumably stop to admire the Parker Dam.
This dam isn’t as impressive-looking as our local Hoover Dam, for you are only seeing one-quarter of its 320-foot height, but it still quite the engineering feat because it is such a deep dam. It is said to be the deepest in the world, for engineers had to dig far beneath the riverbed to reach the bedrock on which a dam must rest. Like Hoover, it is an arch-gravity dam, a type that relies on the structure’s weight and its shape, arched upstream, for strength.
Completed in 1938, it was built for the Bureau of Reclamation by one of the Six Companies that had built Hoover Dam. The construction superintendent was Frank Crowe, who had filled the same role at Hoover.
As Hoover Dam, 155 miles to the north, created Lake Mead, Parker Dam backed up waters creating the 45-mile-long Lake Havasu.
Driving south of the dam along U.S. 95 you will be on the “Parker Strip,” where there are plenty of places to access the Colorado River. It flows gently here and is noted for good fishing, particularly for bass. If you only have time for one stop, I suggest it be Buckskin Mountain State Park. Here you can hang out on the sandy beach, launch a boat, have a picnic and even camp.
The town of Parker is within the Colorado River Indian Tribes Reservation. This territory was dedicated in 1865 for the Mohave and Chemehuevi people, who were later joined by some who identify as Hopi and Navajo. For legal purposes they are recognized as a single tribal unit.
One of the small town’s attractions is the Colorado River Indian Tribes Museum, at 1007 W. Arizona Ave. It’s small but well run and especially rich in the traditional basketry at which the river tribes excelled.
If you are visiting the area this winter or into spring, plan on coming over the weekend to have a special experience. Those equipped and willing to venture off-road into the Buckskin Mountains should definitely stop in at the Nellie E. Saloon, also known as the Desert Bar. This very funky but unique place lies at the far end of a rough gravel road, 5 miles from Parker.
The site of an old mining camp is now a saloon, lunch spot and entertainment venue, with an unofficial outdoor museum. It’s a simple, laid-back place that’s open to all ages, and you’ll be sure to find quite a diverse crowd. Everyone fits in from bikers to off-road enthusiasts to those in beach wear and flip-flops. Some even show up wearing conservative church attire and even high heels (though I don’t recommend high heels, because of the uneven terrain). The hamburgers (and don’t ask for cheese) and vegan burgers are the best around and there is live entertainment Saturday and Sunday afternoons. No debit or credit cards, checks or bartering accepted; just good old-fashioned cash. Outdoor seating is available in the sun or shade, on multiple floors and decks. If its been raining or rain threatens, save this trip for another day as the road can become impassable.
It is about 160 miles from Boulder City to Parker; you should plan for about 3½ hours of driving one way.
Many of Deborah Wall’s columns have been compiled into books about hiking in the Southwest. She is also the author of “Great Hikes, a Cerca Country Guide” and a co-author of the book “Access For All, Seeing the Southwest With Limited Mobility.” Wall can be reached at Deborabus@aol.com.