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Days 8–9: Lake Havasu.
On Friday afternoon, we left Quartzsite for the final stretch of our boondocking adventure in Lake Havasu – which we now refer to as Lake Havoc-su, after the challenges and the breakdown we encountered there. No, it wasn’t the best way to end our first boondocking adventure, but we made the best out of a bad situation, as we always try to do. In fact, we even made a video about it – which in hindsight is pretty funny – so you can watch that or read the blog post – or both! There is noticeable difference in the content.
The drive along Highway 95 and took us through a gorgeous, rocky canyon south of Lake Havasu City. Friday afternoons tend to be a great time for me catch up via Skype with friends and family in Australia, so I navigated a Skype call with my dear friend Carolyn in between ooohs and aaahs as as we admired the scenery. Just another one of the reasons I love technology and having our own WIFI on the road – I can share scenes literally while driving with people on the other side of the world!
Luckily, Marc remembered the highway mile markers (between 174 and 175) for the free BLM land where the Canadians said we should meet them – remember the friendly Canadians we met the night we dry camped at the Quechan Casino by the border of Mexico the previous Friday? Yes, yes, I know… ALL Canadians are friendly! The ones who invited us to Lake Havasu City for the Winter Blast fireworks display – those Canadians!
And the havoc begins
We arrived at the BLM site on the highway south of Lake Havasu only to discover it was already full of RVers, with the gate at the paved road closed, preventing anyone else from entering. We managed to pull off the highway into the BLM entrance area while we considered our options. There was a dirt road leading into the BLM camping area that allowed vehicles and ATVs to come and go, but it wasn’t really optimal for us to take the coach in there. It looked pretty full, so Marc dropped the MINI off the tow dolly and decided to scope out the land and see if he could find a spot suitable to park the coach, while I stayed behind to continue my Skype call with Carolyn.
As the sun went down, turning the bright blue sky into a brilliant orange then dark blue, I finished my call and wondered what on earth was taking Marc so long? It shouldn’t have taken him more than 10 minutes to scout the BLM land but he’d been gone half an hour at least. Yet, I wasn’t too concerned – I figured he’d found the Canucks and was having a good ole chat.
Finally, Marc returned – he was not happy. “The MINI’s broken” he announced. “A rock jumped up and bit it.”
This of course is “man-code” for “I inadvertently ran over a big, bloody rock but I’m too embarrassed to admit it”. Poor Marc – he is the best, most capable driver I know and in almost 30 years of driving has never been at-cause in an accident or even so much as damaged a vehicle – so the pain on his face was visible.
As it turns out, with her low clearance Juice the MINI got stuck on a large rock that wasn’t easily visible when he was doing a three-point-turn and Marc had to get a couple of guys help him lift the car off the rock. After that, Juice just wouldn’t go at all, so he had to slowly drive back to the coach just using the starter and by rolling down the hill. Hmmm we definitely weren’t off to a good start to our BLM adventure in Lake Havasu City. First, the BLM land was full, second we couldn’t find the Canadians and third – worst of all – the MINI really was broken. Bugger! I guess all of our off-road adventures with poor little MINI in Yuma and Quartzsite last week before caught up with us after all. Third time unlucky. Boo.
With that spanner in the works, rather than try to load the broken MINI onto the tow dolly in the dark and find another place to park overnight, we decided to stay put. Being right the entrance of BLM land on Highway 95 and on an uneven surface, it was less than ideal, but do-able. We probably weren’t supposed to be there, but we figured at least we were safe, off the main road and we’d try our luck – hoping we wouldn’t be asked to move!
It was time to forget about our troubles and kick back and enjoy a drink, a BBQ dinner and watch these fireworks we’d heard so much about! Because of the uneven surface, we couldn’t get the coach completely level, so we had to keep the slides in. Fortunately, you can access about 90% of our coach with all four slides in. Most importantly, we had access to the beer, wine and food in the fridge!
We kicked back for a bit, watching the fireworks outside of our coach door over dinner and drinks. We’d heard so much about the winter blast so were keen to see the show. I’ll be honest – if our experience watching fireworks over Lake Tahoe on July 4th was a letdown then Lake Havasu’s winter blast was even less inspiring. That’s probably the only disadvantage of seeing a New Year’s Eve fireworks display over Sydney Harbour in Australia – it sets the bar pretty high for any kind of firework show to impress you. And, we were both feeling sad about the MINI, so that probably didn’t help.
After a somewhat sleepless night for worried Marc, the next morning (Saturday 14 February) we called a few local mechanical repair shops in the hope one might be open and available to fix the MINI Saturday morning. No dice. The only shop that was open and available couldn’t get access to MINI parts until the following week, so we decided to just load the MINI onto the tow dolly and tow her back to Palm Springs with us on Sunday – it just made more sense to do that as we’d be in Palm Springs for two weeks and our campground was walking/biking distance to the supermarket and local stores.
But, our Valentine’s Day had a couple more thorns to deal with. Not only was the MINI broken and presenting a challenge to load onto the dolly, given it wouldn’t run, but the leveling jacks on the coach decided they didn’t want to come up. Geez, our weekend in Lake Havasu was getting rougher by the minute. Eventually, after about ten minutes of patience, restarting the engine, checking the fuse box and crossing fingers, the jacks finally came up! Phew. We have no idea what the issue was – it’s the only time we’ve ever experienced this issue – we were just glad to be able to move the coach and line her up with the dolly, ready to load the MINI. Next, using a combination of gravity, using the starter, Marc’s driving skill and a dash of luck, he successfully loaded the MINI onto the dolly. We were both relieved and exhausted – and it was only 10am. We could only hope our weekend would continue to improve! This wasn’t the ideal way to end our 9 day maiden boondocking adventure! It had all been going so well, so far.
It was time to turn those thorns into roses so we hit our inner re-set buttons and decided to make the most of the rest of day. Glad to be leaving the BLM area, we headed into Lake Havasu City in search of a safe place to park the coach/MINI for the day. We found a nice big parking area in a parking lot by Staples and took the tandem down from the bike rack. There’s a fantastic, wide, paved bike path running parallel to the main road that goes all the way downtown and beyond, so the broken MINI actually gave us a great reason to spend the day getting some exercise and fresh air out on the bike!
About Lake Havasu City
It was the perfect day to explore Lake Havasu by bike, with endless blue skies and warm 70+ degree F temps (low to mid 20s C). Lake Havasu City is a respectable sized city in Mohave County, Arizona, with a population of around 52,000. Despite the fact it’s situated in the middle of the desert, LHC attracts huge crowds that descend upon the town for all kinds of activities, boasting beaches, boating, casinos, cycling, fishing, golf, jet skiing and hot air ballooning. The city’s motto is “play like you mean it” and it’s as popular with snowbirds who flock there to escape the bitterly cold north-east winter months as it is with high school seniors and college students out to party during spring break. We biked 3 miles downtown and managed to stay out of the traffic and crowds all the way to London Bridge.
The London Bridge
The famous London Bridge in Lake Havasu City is Arizona state’s second biggest tourist attraction after the Grand Canyon. It is literally the original, iconic London Bridge that was bought from the City of London for US $2.46 million when the original bridge was replaced in 1968. The bridge was disassembled and the marked stones were shipped to Lake Havasu City and reassembled for another US $7 million. London Bridge opened in LHC on October 5, 1971.
London Bridge crosses a narrow channel that leads from Lake Havasu (a segment of the Colorado River) to Thompson Bay. You can drive, walk and bike over it and it’s surrounded by shops, restaurants and tour companies offering all kinds of water activities, with a steady stream of boating traffic crossing under it. It’s really quite beautiful and a most unexpected sight to see in the middle of Arizona.
Lighthouses of Lake Havasu
When one thinks of lighthouses, images of coastal towns come to mind. You certainly wouldn’t expect to see them in a landlocked state like Arizona for their location, but it just so happens that Lake Havasu City is home to more lighthouses than any other city in the entire country! Of course, given we found a yacht club in equally landlocked Quartzsite, Arizona (yes, really) perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised… Arizona clearly has an obsession with the water!
These 1/3 scale lighthouse replicas are actual functioning navigational aids built to the specifications of famous East Coast, West Coast and Great Lakes lighthouses. More than twenty can be seen on the shores of the lake. Most can be hiked to while some are only accessible by boat. All of the lighthouses have been built and maintained by the Lake Havasu Lighthouse Club, a nonprofit group of independent citizens, dedicated to the preservation, improvement and promotion of Lake Havasu and the Lake Havasu City lifestyle. These lighthouses make boating experiences and the city itself even more beautiful and unique.
All of the lighthouses on the west side of Lake Havasu are replicas of West Coast lighthouses, while the east side consists of East Coast replicas. The lighthouses around the island are all replicas of lighthouses from the Great Lakes. As per the coast guard’s navigational regulations, lighthouses on the west coast use a green beacon, while east coast lighthouses use a red beacon. Lighthouses with a flashing amber beacon signify safe harbor lights for emergency use only.
After visiting half a dozen or more lighthouses, it was time for lunch! We rode back to London Bridge to eat pizza and drink beer while watching the water traffic under the London Bridge.
The round trip ferry – ‘cheap’ comes at a price
We’d been told that we could catch a ferry across to the other side of the lake for just $2 round trip so finished up our lunch and ran down to the ferry. It’s a very pleasant ride across the lake, starting out slowly as it makes it’s way out of the channel, then opening up to a much higher speed when on the open lake. A short 15 minutes later and we were on the other side. It hadn’t occurred to us to ask what was on the other side, we just liked the idea of a round trip ferry ride to see the Lake from all different angles. And what we found was…a casino, one that issues you your free ‘return ticket’ for the ferry but won’t allow you to return to the mainland immediately, you have to wait an hour. Sneaky little lizards – no wonder the ferry rides are subsidized! The ferry entices people across the lake to the casino and the hour-long wait is so they’ll hope you go inside to spend an hour (or more) inside gambling, drinking and eating.
There is really nothing much else to see or do on the island so we just sat and patiently waited for the next one to come along. We got chatting to another couple who had done the same thing – Linda and Glen – who also happened to be full-time RVers. They wanted to see the Winter Blast fireworks as well and kindly offered to drive us and our tandem in their truck to a closer location where we could all watch the show together. We arrived in time for a glorious sunset with hopes the show would be better on the Saturday night than the previous night, but alas, it was not.
After an hour at most, we went our separate ways, with Marc and I jumping on the tandem for the 7 mile bike ride back to the coach – we hoped it hadn’t been ticketed or towed! We knew we weren’t parked illegally, but you just never know what rules some city ordinances have and being almost 9pm, we were getting a tad concerned.
The bike path was fantastic, smooth, wide and completely clear – we only passed one other cyclist the whole way home! We made it back to the coach and luckily, everything was safe and sound. Yep, our day had definitely taken a turn for the better!
Next Challenge – where to stay the night
It was the 9th and final night of our boondocking adventure and we had nowhere to stay. BLM land was out of the question as by now they were all full and it would be harder to navigate the coach as you can’t reverse it when the MINI is on the tow dolly. We knew any local RV parks would be fully booked and besides, we HAD to dry camp, we couldn’t bail on our last night! So what do you do when you’re stuck for somewhere to spend the night? Call Walmart of course! I made the call and was referred to the security company for the mall. They advised that Lake Havasu City Ordinance bans overnight parking in parking lots. Bummer.
I asked for some suggestions. “Head north of town until you are outside of city limits” he said. “How will I know when we’re out of city limits?” I asked. His response? “You will see a bunch of RVs on the side of he road that I’ve also sent up that way!”
It was getting late, it was dark, we were both super tired and more than ready to sleep, after such a big day and bike ride. Yet, we had to leave the Staples parking lot! We started driving north, for far longer than the 5 miles or so that the security guy had indicated! The road was dark and uneven, with unfinished roadworks impacting the drive. Eventually, as we approached the intersection of Highway 40 we saw a Love’s Travel Stop and a dirt lot opposite with two RVs camped out for the night. We pulled in, parked the coach and fell into bed, asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow.
The next morning, we were up early and Marc checked our fresh water tank level so see how we’d fared! We were happy to see we had plenty left – around 15 gallons he estimated. I took notes of our water level and generator hours so I could calculate our usage and the overall cost of our boondocking adventure (see our separate boondocking recap with stats and facts). Having this data would help us determine how much more boondocking we wanted to do in the future – and consider whether or not it would be worthwhile investing in a solar setup.
By 8am, we were already on the road, headed for Palm Springs, CA! Yeehaa!
So what were our big lessons from our visit to Lake Havasu City?
- Know the limitations of your vehicle and remember that a MINI is not designed for off roading, so be careful where and how you drive it
- It’s always possible to turn a bad day into a good one 🙂
We (mostly) had a great time during our boondocking adventure, we learned a lot, gained a lot of confidence and felt a lot more comfortable with our ability to be self-sufficient. We don’t think it’s probably as cost efficient as one might think, by the time we take into account the costs of generator fuel, dump station fees, wear and tear on the vehicles and of course, the MINI repair. We’ll share a separate report on that.
After a 216 mile, 4 hour drive, we couldn’t have been happier to pull up into Palm Springs RV Resort – where we’d already spent a great 3 weeks in December. It felt like we were ‘coming home’. We could hardly wait to park the coach, shower, put on our swimsuits and jump in the pool and hot tub.
Ahhhhh. Free-flowing water, 50 amps of electrical power, a sewer connection. After 9 days and nights out in the boonies, we were definitely ready to kick back and enjoy these simple pleasures 🙂
Have you had any misadventures while out boondocking? We’d love to hear about them and know we’re not alone! Share in the comments below.