Laughlin, located at the southern tip of Nevada on the west bank of the Colorado River, has been a haven for snowbirds ever since we can remember. Clusters of RVs and trailers can be found on just about every piece of flat ground in the area which is not already occupied by casinos. Little passenger ferries travel up and down the river, carrying folks from one casino to another, or just out to see the water and whatever can be seen. Desert is the name for the surrounding countryside, with only a few hardy plants which can survive hot summer days, cold winter nights, and fierce winds, such as those we had during our visit. In the distance the mountains are sharp and brown with outcroppings of rock, and here and there traces of prospectors' explorations.
The casinos make a stark contrast with the rugged surroundings, but Laughlin is much more laid-back than giant Las Vegas, 75 miles north. Both locals and visitors seem to be a little older and more relaxed, with less to prove about themselves. Laughlin is much less expensive than Vegas, and an hour closer to Arizona. We spent four nights here, dividing our time between the casino and our computers and paperwork.
Lots of the guests know one another, and keep a watch out for those who might be sick or out of town visiting grandchildren. They have their regular hours at their regular slot machines (only a few sit at the tables) and order their regular coffee from their regular waittresses.
In the Golden Nugget, where we stayed, the big topic of conversation was the recent purchase of the hotel from The Mirage Group by two young men who had made their dot.com fortune by founding Expedia.com and now own the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas as well. We overheard part of their presentation at a Arizona saguaro morning staff meeting and thought it sounded exactly like what a Boeing manager might be saying. The employees seemed mildly enthusiastic, but they generally have little to do with owners, anyway. We wondered if the recent incident with the tiger in Las Vegas was leading to the dismantling of the Mirage chain of resorts.
Bullhead City, Arizona is across the Colorado, a good-sized retirement community along the river. We made the mistake of picking a "Mexican" restaurant for lunch. Please Wait To Be Seated, said the sign, but the man just handed us two menus and told us to sit where we wanted. Three workmen in their thirties sat at two tables talking and drinking soda.
The bartender wanted to know if one of the three had been sick after the bloody mary she served him the other day. "A little," he replied. "Don't worry about it." She then went on apologizing and insisting that she had thrown out the rest of the bottle of tomato juice, noting that it was always a problem with bloody marys. But he went on to have lunch, and so did we, although it was definitely forgettable food!
Highway 93 goes from Kingston to Phoenix, and is like many of the roads that make the magazine Arizona Highways justly popular for their lovely photographs. Wikieup is the only town for a hundred miles, and you're through before you know it.
Wickenburg, however, was another story. This was a long weekend for many, and Wickenburg was celebrating Gold Rush Days, with horses and costumed riders, street fairs and cookouts, art sales and a few rides and carnival attractions. Roads were closed and the traffic crawled through town.
We'd decided to cut south in Wickenburg, because we knew the road from there to Phoenix was sixty miles of stop lights, developments, and traffic. The only problem was that the road shown on our AAA map had no identifying number. "You go a little west of town on 60 and then cut south into the Vulture Mountains," said Bob. Elsa went in to a drug store to inquire. She found a couple with a cart. "Turn at the traffic light," said the woman. "But there isn't anything to see on that road." Her husband remained silent but we thought he rolled his eyes just a bit.
We can and do recommend it, though. Called the Vulture Mine Road, it headed south and a little west through beautiful hills thick with saguaros and cholla and ocatillo. The Vulture Gold Mine had weatherbeaten wooden structures and welcomed tourists, though we didn't stop. A hawk tried to get airborne with a roadkill rabbit, but only succeeded in dragging the carcass out of our lane. The road has curves and hills, but little traffic, and ends up at Wigwam Motel, Holbrook I-10, which we took to our hotel.
After a lovely day spent with family in Phoenix, we continued northeast. We always try to find a road we haven't travelled, and highway 87 through Payson was a lovely trip, gradually climbing through the Tonto National Forest to the top of the Mogollon Rim near Heber. Every now and then the forest would open to provide dazzling glimpses of broad, deep canyons and distant mountains. Occasionally there were patches of snow melting slowly under trees. We watched for elk, but didn't spot any, no great surprise. We did catch a sight of two coyotes dashing across the road ahead.
They are serious about the elk, though. Inspired by Burma Shave, the ADOT has put up rhyming signs: They saw an elk/ Oh what a thrill/ Until they smashed it / on the grill. And the yellow caution sign shows an enormous rack of antlers.
Holbrook, Arizona was on Route 66, and still has some highway businesses dating from the 50s. We enjoyed seeing the Wigwam Motel, which had a classic car parked in front of every individual Wigwam / Motel Cottage. But even Historic Route 66 is slowly dying out, as the businesses located right at the freeway exits are the only ones that survive.