Dancing in the moonlight under the London Bridge

Last week, Georges and I dined, drank and danced under the London Bridge – without ever leaving the United States.

What fun!

We took a leisurely week to traverse the 100 miles along the Colorado River from Laughlin, Nevada to Parker, Arizona. In the middle, we spent a delightful two evenings in Lake Havasu City listening to live music by Anthony K and – believe it or not – dancing in the moonlight under the London Bridge in the desert.

That would be the real London Bridge, the one built in the 1830s to span the River Thames in London, England. (Actually, the original wooden structure over the Thames dates to the Roman occupation era, around 50 AD, and was built/destroyed/rebuilt many times over the next several centuries.)

So how did the London Bridge find its way to the western edge of Arizona?

Chainsaw magnate Robert P. McCulloch bought the bridge at auction in 1967. It seems the unsentimental Brits were tearing it down to construct a bigger, stronger and more modern span over their river. He paid $2.5 million for it and then forked over another $7 million to have the exterior granite blocks numbered, dismantled and shipped to Arizona where they were reassembled to become the signature element of the master-planned community he built on the shores of Lake Havasu in 1964.

The reassembling was completed in 1971 – the lamps on the bridge are from the melted-down cannons of Napoleon Bonaparte’s army – and it links an island in the Colorado River with the main part of Lake Havasu City.

The Lord Mayor of London attended the ribbon cutting.

As a kid, my family spent several Easters in Lake Havasu City. We’d meet my late Uncle Frank and Aunt Clarice, who would pilot their two-seat Cessna from Saratoga, California into the local airstrip and we’d spend the holiday weekend touring the river, shopping at the burgeoning “English village” at the foot of the bridge and playing on the beach.

Back then, Lake Havasu City was a barely established community with as many bighorn sheep as people. It was in the middle of a harsh, hot desert hundreds of miles from a city of any consequence.

Today, it a bustling metropolis of more than 52,000 people, most of them retirees, featuring golf courses, hotels and spacious shopping centers. It hugs a riverfront in a valley between mountain ranges that fold out like an accordion on both sides, forming tall ripples of mauve, vermillion and ochre.

RV parks and Bureau of Land Management campsites extend endlessly to the north and to the south. So do myriad dusty dirt roads that draw ATVs and OHVs to the area from miles around.

The picture below is of LHC from a casino ferry about midway across the lake to California.

The London Bridge, home to hundreds of bats and thousands of swallows, helped put Lake Havasu City on the map.

I remember being fascinated as a kid that this was the actual bridge featured in the eponymous kids’ game. (Remember it? We’d make an arch by raising our hands, face-to-face with a partner and other kids would tromp through our bridge and make new arches on the other side. Then, we’d follow suit. And when the last word of the last lyric of each verse was said, whoever was forming the arch at that moment had to capture a playmate in their “bridge.”)

The song’s lyrics are rooted in the reality of the bridge being re-built and re-built and re-built over the years. Still one of the most popular singing-games in the world, its lyrics have been translated into languages ranging from Danish to German to Romanian.

But Georges, raised in the French-speaking part of Belgium, claims never to have heard the song. So, of course, I began singing it to him. I think I was only slightly off-key…. But I couldn’t get past the first verse. I had to look up the lyrics. Here they are in their entirety, in case you’d like a memory refresher.

London Bridge is falling down,

Falling down, falling down,

London Bridge is falling down,

My fair Lady.

Build it up with wood and clay,

Wood and clay, wood and clay,

Build it up with wood and clay,

My fair Lady.

Wood and clay will wash away,

Wash away, wash away,

Wood and clay will wash away,

My fair Lady.

Build it up with bricks and mortar,

Bricks and mortar, bricks and mortar,

Build it up with bricks and mortar,

My fair Lady.

Bricks and mortar will not stay,

Will not stay, will not stay,

Bricks and mortar will not stay,

My fair Lady.

Build it up with iron and steel,

Iron and steel, iron and steel,

Build it up with iron and steel,

My fair Lady.

Iron and steel will bend and bow,

Bend and bow, bend and bow,

Iron and steel will bend and bow,

My fair Lady.

Build it up with silver and gold,

Silver and gold, silver and gold,

Build it up with silver and gold,

My fair Lady.

Silver and gold will be stolen away,

Stolen away, stolen away,

Silver and gold will be stolen away,

My fair Lady.

Set a man to watch all night,

Watch all night, watch all night,

Set a man to watch all night,

My fair Lady.

Suppose the man should fall asleep,

Fall asleep, fall asleep,

Suppose the man should fall asleep?

My fair Lady.

Give him a pipe to smoke all night,

Smoke all night, smoke all night,

Give him a pipe to smoke all night,

My fair Lady.

The last time I was in the Colorado River Valley was more than 30 years ago with two other members of The Arizona Republic’s investigative team spending a week here checking local records and interviewing landowners. We were trying to determine whether rumors that out-state casino interests were secretly wiring Arizona river resorts to be gambling-ready in anticipation of legalized gaming were true.

It turned out to be all for naught. Once the courts OK’d tribal casinos, the push for legalized casino gambling statewide fizzled.

To be honest, I’d forgotten how lovely this part of the river is. “Havasu” is the Mojave Indian word for blue-green water, and indeed the blue-green river slices through the desert like an emerald knife across deep folds of creamed butter.

G and I loved the three nights we camped at the Cattail Cove State Park right on the river about 15 miles south of Lake Havasu City. We haven’t been in Arizona’s state parks in decades and the ones along the river are well designed and perfectly manicured – in contrast to some of what we encountered in California.

One day, we hiked from our campsite along the river, up hills and down canyons, to Whyte’s Retreat where we chatted it up with warm and friendly Mike and Noreen, originally from Illinois, who had moored temporarily at the picnic spot with some friends on a small party boat.

One evening, back in the city, we shared a flight of six craft beers and a tasty lobster burger from Barley Brothers Brewery just over the London Bridge. Afterward, we danced to the music under the bridge.

We liked Andrew K’s music so much that we came back the next night, this time we enjoyed a pound of plump Cajun-boiled shrimp under the bridge from Bill’s Seafood Buckets. (G tried a beer from the UK; I stuck with a Lake Havasu craft.)

LHC is definitely a tourist town, but there’s a lot more variety here than I expected. It’s too hot in the summer, often topping 110 in July and August, but the fall is nice – if a bit windy – with days in the 70s and nights in the 40s.

We started our week along the Colorado River 70 miles north of LHC at Davis Dam just across the water from Laughlin, Nevada. It’s the second of the three major dams along the Colorado. (The first being the impressive concrete-arched Hoover Dam at Lake Mead, 67 miles upstream, once the tallest dam in the world.) We pedaled over to Davis Dam from our casino campsite and marveled at the miracle of water management.

We learned:

  • Davis Dam is named after Arthur Paul Davis, director of the Bureau of Reclamation 1914-1923 and the nephew of the famous explorer John Wesley Powell, who led the expedition that first navigated the Colorado River in 1869.
  • It’s supposedly the least impressive of the three major dams on the river – Hoover upstream, Davis in the middle and Parker downstream. Hoover and Parker are both tall, spectacular, concrete-arch dams; Davis is made of earth and concrete. A writer commenting on the brand-new Davis Dam in 1953 called it “a dwarf and ugly duckling of the dam family.” Retorts the information plaque at the dam: “But to an engineer – or for that matter an American taxpayer – it’s a thing of beauty. It does the job it was built to do and it does it well.”
  • The spillway and power house at Davis Dam were built with concrete and steel – enough concrete to make a stack on the football field nearly as high as the field is long, and enough steel to build a fleet of more than 6000 full-sized sport utility vehicles.
  • There are 3.6 million cubic yards of rock- and earth fill in the dam. A cubic yard of earth would fit in a box 3‘ x 3‘ x 3‘. If those boxes were laid end to end, they would reach from Los Angeles to Chicago, about 2000 miles, according to the Davis Dam brochure.

We resumed or Casita travels from Davis Dam into Arizona and tootled our way through Bullhead City, which, truth be told, I’ve always rather considered the armpit of Arizona. I’m sure it’s a more diverse community than I give it credit for. But the confederate-flag license plate on the car outside the T-Mobile store and the abundance of “adult business” billboards and gun shops bragging about their locally manufactured sniper rifles, AR-15s and custom-build rifles make it hard for me to revise my opinion.

From Bullhead we sidled along the river to Lake Havasu City and on to Cattail Cove State Park, where we hiked and just generally chilled (with some visiting Gambel’s quail) for a few days.

Then it was on to Parker Dam along an especially scenic portion of Arizona Route 95. Parker Dam is the deepest dam in the world. Here’s a photo from below the dam, looking from the river side toward Lake Havasu.

What you see is barely a quarter of the dam’s 320-foot height. The other 235 feet plunge deep into the Colorado riverbed. Here’s a photo looking from the lakeside on the right down toward the much-lower level river to the left. (In both pictures, that’s California across the way.)

This dam was built in 1934-38 to create Lake Havasu, which provides water to Riverside and other Southern California communities, as well as (via 336 miles of the Central Arizona Canal) to Phoenix and Tucson.

All told, it serves more than 15 million people on both sides of the river.

It’s humbling to stand next to a dam like this – any hydroelectric power plant for that matter – and imagine the ingenuity and brute strength of force that it takes to build something that so dramatically reshapes life on our planet….

Soon, we’ll turn our noses eastward for the first time since leaving Texas in March and begin the next leg of our Year on the Edges of America….

7 thoughts on “Dancing in the moonlight under the London Bridge

  1. Henry D'Alessandris November 16, 2018 — 7:06 am

    I too only knew the first verse on the song. You brought back a memory long forgotten. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Henry. So glad you liked it.

      Like

  2. Cannot believe the population of LHC! Do love the bridge. Betty Beard and I did a weekend road trip to see that bridge and the most surprising thing to me was how beautiful the lake is there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the sparkling lake set in the middle of the beautifully stark desert is striking!

      Like

  3. Always been fascinated with the London bridge in the desert. Thanks Keven

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for commenting, Judy. Glad you liked the post! Yes, that bridge has quite the story. (PS: G just made coq au vin last night in your magic pan; check your email for photo.) ❤️💕

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close