From 1871 to 1908, Parker was nothing but a post office on the Colorado River Indian Reservation. When the railroad came through, the town began to expand, becoming a trading center for the reservation and nearby mining operations. Mining later declined, but agriculture and tourism thrived.
Headgate Rock Dam, finished in 1941 just upstream from Parker, forms Lake Moovalya, which provides water for the irrigation of reservation farmlands. Resorts and parks line Lake Moovalya and both shores of the river, drawing visitors year-round. Better known as the Parker Strip, this 11-mile stretch of scenic waterway begins several miles north of Parker and extends north to Parker Dam. Despite hot summer temperatures—among the nation's highest—many people enjoy the excellent boating and waterskiing from Easter through Labor Day. In September the temperature starts to cool and the scene calms. Winter visitors, many retired, enjoy fishing, hunting, hiking, rock hounding, and exploring ghost towns. You can learn more about local history in the Parker Area Historical Society Museum downtown at 1214 California Ave., but it's open only short hours a few days a week; ask at the chamber office.
Patria Flats Day Use Area
This riverside park makes a fine place for a picnic with shaded tables, restrooms, and boat launch; free. It's on the Parker Strip 6.7 miles north of Parker. River View Day Use Area, a half-mile south, is a small area used by anglers.
La Paz County Park
You'll have lots of room to roam here, as the park (eight miles north of Parker at 7350 Riverside Dr., 928/667-2069, www.co.la-paz.az.us/) stretches one mile along the Colorado River. Facilities include tent and RV camping with showers, picnicking, swimming beach, boat ramp, playground, tennis, volleyball, softball, basketball, horseshoes, recreation hall, putting green, and dump station. Campers will always find space in the dry area, but hookup sites fill early during summer weekends and October-March. Fees run $2/person (12 years and over) for day use, $8/vehicle dry camping, $12/vehicle dry camping with a ramada, and $15 for an RV site with hookups. Only group campgrounds can be reserved. The 18-hole Emerald Canyon Golf Course (928/667-3366) lies across the road.
Buckskin Mountain State Park
This scenic park (11 miles north of Parker off AZ 95, 928/667-3231) sits on a bend in the river backed by low cliffs. Trees provide welcome shade in summer. Visitors enjoy use of the campground, picnic area, swimming beach, boat ramp, playground, volleyball court, basketball court, horseshoe pit, shuffleboard, and hiking trails. Day use costs $8, but hikers pay only $2/person for trailhead parking. Campsites go for $20 with showers and water and electric hookups; some sites include sewer hookups for $23. A dump station is available too. Cabana sites by the river have a covered table and electric hookups only, $22. All camping is first come, first served; arrive early on summer weekends and Jan.-March. You can join interpretive programs and hikes Jan.-April and full moon hikes in summer. An interpretive garden near the ranger station identifies plants of the desert; old mining relics lie nearby. A concession (928/667-3210) runs a cafe, store, gas dock, and inner-tube sales/rental; it's closed in winter.
The one-third-mile-roundtrip Lightning Bolt Trail climbs to an overlook from near the ranger station. Also start here for the interpretive Buckskin Trail that follows a bridge over the highway, then winds into scenic hills on a one-mile loop; a spur trail halfway leads half a mile farther into the hills to some mines; another trail branches off the mine trail and follows a ridge to an overlook at Interruption Point, adding about a mile roundtrip.
River Island State Park
This smaller unit (1.5 miles north of Buckskin Mountain State Park on AZ 95, 928/667-3386) offers picnicking, camping, a swimming beach, boat ramp, horseshoe pit, hiking, a reservable group ramada, and an amphitheater. Wedge Hill Trail climbs to an overlook in about half a mile roundtrip; a trail leaflet tells of wildlife habitats. Interpretive programs run some days Jan.-April. Day use costs $8. Campsites cost $20 and include water and electric hookups and showers. Try to arrive early for summer weekends and during January-March. River Island Market (one-half mile south of the park, 928/667-2448) offers supplies and tube rentals year-round.
The world's deepest dam lies about 15 miles upriver from its namesake, the town of Parker. During construction, workers had to dig down 235 feet through the sand and gravel of the riverbed before hitting the bedrock needed to secure the foundation. Today, only the top third of the dam is visible. Lake Havasu, the reservoir behind the dam, has a storage capacity of 211 billion gallons. Pumps transfer one billion gallons a day into the Colorado River Aqueduct for southern California destinations. You can park at both ends of the dam. There's a boat launch at Take-off Point near the dam on the Arizona side. Security restrictions may close the dam to RVs and trucks, and to all traffic at night.
Colorado River Indian Reservation
Established in 1865, this 268,691-acre reservation lies mostly in Arizona. Inhabitants include Mohave, Chemehuevi, Hopi, and Navajo. Don't expect any picturesque villages—the 6,000-plus residents live in modern houses and work at farms and jobs like everyone else along the Colorado River.
To learn about the tribes and others who've passed this way, visit the Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT) Museum (928/669-9211, ext. 1335, 8 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., donations welcome) two miles southwest of Parker. You'll see models of traditional shelters, a collection of fine baskets and other crafts, old photos of early reservation life, and exhibits on the Japanese relocation camps. A library houses an extensive collection of books, manuscripts, photographs, and tapes relating to the tribes. A gift shop sells beadwork and other Native American crafts. To reach the museum, head southwest from downtown Parker about two miles on Agency Road, or take California Avenue to the south edge of Parker, then turn right 1.8 miles on Mohave Road.
To enjoy a quiet backwater of the Colorado River, stop by Ahakhav Tribal Preserve just southwest of Parker. You can picnic, walk through the riparian woodlands, go birding, play in the playground, laze on the beach, rent a canoe, or launch your own non-motorized craft. Canoe tours are available with advance notice. There's no charge to visit the preserve's 1,253 acres, which are open for day use only. Note that fishing requires a tribal permit (available in Parker) and that alcohol is forbidden. The park office is open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, except in summer when hours change to 6 a.m.-3 p.m. daily. Follow the directions above to the CRIT Museum, continue southwest 0.5 mile on Mohave Road toward Ehrenburg, then turn right 1.3 miles on Rodeo Road to the office; the beach turnoff is 0.2 mile farther on the right; continue another mile to road's end at the Colorado River.
Poston Memorial Monument marks the area where 17,867 people of Japanese ancestry had to endure confinement in the harsh desert during the hysteria of WW II. Plaques on the monument and a kiosk tell the story of these people who lived in three camps from May 1942 to November 1945. Farmlands have replaced the tarpaper barracks, but an adobe auditorium at Camp I can be seen to the west from the highway; these sites all lie on private land. The memorial stands on the east side of the Parker-Ehrenberg road 13 miles south of the CRIT Museum; look for the broken column just south of Poston.
Of the ghost towns near Parker, Swansea is the best preserved, with ruins of a large brick smelter, mine, and more than a dozen buildings. The Clara Consolidated Gold and Copper Mining Co. built the smelter in the early 1900s to process its ore locally, instead of sending the stuff to such faraway places as Swansea in Wales. Clara Consolidated closed the smelter in 1912, but other companies continued mining until 1924.
High-clearance vehicles do best, though cautiously driven cars may be able to navigate the dirt roads to the site. From Parker, take Shea Road at the south edge of town and head east about 23 miles to the Four Corners junction, then continue 7.2 miles to Swansea. In this last section you'll cross a pipeline twice, pass through very scenic desert hills, and see a natural arch. From Bouse, 27 miles southeast of Parker, take the road north across the railroad tracks and go 13 miles to Midway (keep left at a fork three miles from Bouse). Bear left on the fork at Midway, crossing under power lines after 0.4 mile, and go northwest 5.7 miles to Four Corners road junction, then turn right 7.2 miles to Swansea. Obtain local advice and good maps such as the Swansea 15-minute topo map; BLM and tourist offices may have a brochure on Swansea.
Alamo Lake State Park
This remote desert lake lies on the Bill Williams River at an elevation of 1,200 feet. When Alamo Lake began to fill in the mid-'60s, the flooded cottonwood, mesquite, and paloverde trees became homes for bluegill, sunfish, and tilapia. Hungry largemouth bass and channel catfish then fed on the small fish.
The park (928/669-2088) provides picnic tables, campgrounds with showers and hookups, a group reservation area, boat ramp, and a dump station; costs per vehicle run $5 day use, $10 undeveloped camping sites (chemical toilets), $12 no hookups, and $19-22 with hookups. January to early May is the busiest time with autumn the next most popular, but the park always has room; groups can reserve a camping area. Fishing draws the most visitors. You can also hike or go birdwatching in the surrounding desert, though there are no designated trails; the ranger station has a birdlist.
To get here, drive to Wenden on US 60 (60 miles southeast of Parker and 108 miles northwest of Phoenix), then turn 35 miles north on a paved road at the sign for the park. You'll first come to Cholla Road in the park; turn right for a choice of undeveloped and hookup sites, fish-cleaning station, and paved boat ramp; this area offers closest access to the upper lake and is less likely to be crowded. Continue 1.5 miles on the main road to the ranger station; turn right for the ramada area, developed campgrounds, fish-cleaning station, and paved boat ramp. Or continue straight 1.3 miles at the ranger station to Bill Williams Overlook near the dam for a great overview of the lake and surrounding desert.
Nearby Wayside Inn (928/925-3456) offers an RV park ($9.50 dry, $18 w/hookups), a smoky bar/cafe, a tiny store, and a gas pump. It's about three miles off the road to Alamo Lake State Park and about 4.5 miles from the lake itself. Unpaved Alamo/Tres Alamo Road connects Wayside Inn with US 93 (between Mileposts 178 and 179), but you'll need a high-clearance vehicle for the bumpy 30 miles.
Alamo Road offers a scenic route to the undeveloped north shore of the lake from I-40 Yucca Exit 25 near Kingman. The graded dirt road is 57 miles one way and can be done in a cautiously driven car. There are no facilities along the way or at the lake. Along the way, adventurous travelers can explore ghost towns, mines, and three wildernesses—Aubrey Peak, Arrastra Mountains, and Rawhide Mountains. You can also reach Alamo Road from US 93 on graded Chicken Springs Road from Wickiup, on Signal Road farther south (just south of US 93 Milepost 132), or on the more mountainous Seventeen Mile Road (just south of US 93 Milepost 143) that joins Signal Road. Maps show Brown's Crossing above Alamo Lake, but this unsigned 4WD route is subject to loose sand or flooding; you could ask at Wayside Inn (above) about conditions.
McCracken Peak (3,524 feet) and Mine make a good detour if you have a 4WD vehicle; turn west 4.7 miles at the four-way junction on Alamo Road opposite the turn for Signal Road, 19 miles north of Alamo Lake; the going is bumpy and you may prefer walking the last mile to the summit and the gaping hole of the 19th-century silver mine. Miners transported ore east to Signal near the Big Sandy River for processing. Signal's cemetery and foundations of two mills still exist—you can seek them out by following Signal Road east 5.1 miles from Alamo Road, then turning south (there may be a little sign) about half a mile on an unpaved 4WD road.
Harquahala Mountain National Back Country Byway
This steep 4WD road climbs 3,800 vertical feet in 10.5 miles to the highest point in southwestern Arizona. Weather permitting, you'll have a panorama of seemingly countless mountain ranges rising above the desert floor. The army used the 5,691-foot summit as a heliograph station in the 1800s, but the site is best known for the Smithsonian's solar observatory built in the 1920s, then abandoned after several years in favor of a more accessible location in California. The main building still stands, and interpretive signs tell about the people who lived here. No road existed at the time, so scientists had to climb the steep 5.4-mile one-way Harquahala Pack Trail up the north side of the mountain. Most of the trail lies in the Harquahala Mountains Wilderness; the trailhead (2,320 feet) is reached on a 4WD road that turns off US 60 13.6 miles southwest of Aguila. Miners later built a road up the south side, completing it to the summit only in 1981. A high-clearance 4WD vehicle is required for this adventure, which can be done in most SUVs. You'll want to use low speeds and be alert to engine overheating on the way up and brake overheating on the way down. The road is open all year except after winter storms.
At the start of the Byway, the BLM's Phoenix Field Office (623/580-5500) provides an information kiosk, a few picnic tables and grills, an outhouse and enough parking for RVs. If coming from the west, you can take US 60 to Salome, turn southeast 26 miles on Salome Road, left 8.5 miles on Eagle Eye Road, then left at the sign. From the Wickenburg area, follow US 60 to Aguila, turn south 18.5 miles on Eagle Eye Road—you'll see how the road got its name—and right at the sign. From Phoenix, you can take I-10 west to Salome Road Exit 81, follow Salome Road northwest 9.6 miles, turn right 8.5 miles on Eagle Eye Road, then left at the sign.
To Parker and Parker Strip Practicalities
On to Lake Havasu City