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Trip of the Week

Bridging History at Lake Havasu

May 11, 1986|MICHELE GRIMM and TOM GRIMM | The Grimms are writers/photographers based in Laguna Beach.

If you've put off a trip to Europe, why not drive east to enjoy a bit of England at the California state border. That's where you'll find historic London Bridge, which began carrying traffic across the River Thames in 1831.

These days its granite arches span waters of the Colorado River at Lake Havasu City, Ariz. The bridge reopened there in 1971, a curious project of U.S. developer Robert P. McCulloch. He wanted something to bring attention to the remote site he had chosen for the relocation of his Los Angeles-based factories.

Contrary to the nursery rhyme, London Bridge wasn't falling down, but a wider and stronger replacement was needed and the old bridge went up for auction. McCulloch won the bidding and paid nearly $8 million to buy and move the bridge halfway around the world.

After each block was numbered, the 11,000 tons of stone were dismantled and shipped via the Panama Canal to Los Angeles and trucked to Lake Havasu. The massive structure was reassembled on land and then a channel was dredged from the lake so water would flow again under the London Bridge.

A Bird's-Eye View

It's a focal point for a popular recreation area that began in 1938 when Parker Dam was built across the Colorado River and created Lake Havasu. Visitors enjoy boating, fishing, windsurfing and swimming all year. You can even go parasailing for a bird's-eye view of the bridge and its desert setting.

Lake Havasu City, with a permanent population of 19,000, also offers public golf courses, good restaurants and a variety of accommodations. There is a host of sites for RVs, too.

To get there from Los Angeles, take Interstates 10 and 15 to Barstow, then join Interstate 40 through Needles to the state line at the Colorado River. A few miles beyond Topock turn south on Arizona 95, which twists through the Mohave Mountains to Lake Havasu City.

When you see London Bridge, turn right into its free parking area. Walk through the wrought-iron gate to the information building to pick up restaurant and lodging lists and activities brochures.

Boat Tour Available

An excellent introduction to the area is the 45-minute boat tour aboard Miss Havasupi II that departs from piers at the base of the bridge. This narrated outing runs every day on the hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Adults pay $5, ages 5-11, $3.

The pontoon boat passes under the bridge (look for shell marks from German bombing raids on London during World War II) and circles the island that was created when the channel was cut to the lake. Much of that land is part of Lake Havasu State Park. Its concession operations include the Nautical Inn, a lakeside resort with 120 rooms (from $63), Captain's Table dining room and an 18-hole golf course. Toll-free information: (800) 892-2141.

Also on the island's parkland, called Pittsburg Point, RVers will find full hookups at the Lake Havasu Travel Trailer Park and the Crazy Horse Campground. Boats can be launched or rented at the public marina, and visitors also are welcome at the state beach picnic and swimming area. Park information: (602) 855-7851.

At the park's marina, fishermen will find tackle, bait and advice about where to catch the lake's striped and largemouth bass, bluegill, catfish and crappie.

From other piers at the base of London Bridge you can rent paddle boats, canoes and big-wheeled aquacycles for fun and touring on your own. Also available are jet skis and jet boats with water ski equipment.

Reminders of London

An assortment of curio shops and eateries flank the east end of the bridge. They're part of the English Village where a black taxi, double-decker bus and red mail and telephone boxes are reminders of the real London.

Overlooking the scene is the new Queen's Bay Hotel with 202 rooms (from $55). Its King's Retreat restaurant also has patio dining with a view of the bridge. Golfers will want to try the hotel's public nine-hole golf course that opened recently. Information: (602) 855-0888.

To explore more of Lake Havasu City, board the green air-conditioned trolley that makes an hour-long run around the town. An all-day pass costs $1 and you can jump on and off at any of the motorized vehicle's 22 stops.

For a scenic adventure, head up the Colorado River on a two-hour trip with Blue River Safari Cruises to Topock Gorge. The boat passes through Havasu National Wildlife Refuge, flanked by California's Chemehuevi Mountains and Arizona's Mohave Mountains. The daily tour costs adults $15, children $5. Call (602) 453-5848.

On weekends another boat from the quay at London Bridge will take you across the lake in 15 minutes to the Chemehuevi Valley Indian Reservation. Ride the Havasu Landing Resort ferry to sightsee or enjoy a meal in the campground resort restaurant on the California side.

Many Dining Places

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