Friday, December 9, 2011

Trip Report: Return to Laughlin, Day #2 (11/28/2011)

Tired from our long drive of the day before, we were in no hurry to leave Tucson Tuesday morning, November 28, so we had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel. We had fewer than 400 miles to Laughlin, and we did not need to arrive before standard check-in time of 3:00 or so. We opted to leave after rush hour had subsided in Tucson.

The drive from Tucson to Phoenix takes about 1½ hours, and provides more of the same scenery we had seen the day before: scattered desert mountains in all directions, desert landscape, and mostly cloud free skies. As we approached Phoenix, we hopped onto Loop 101 and circled around Phoenix, which is a sprawling monster of a town of 1,445,632 people and growing (2010 Census data). The areas we saw of Phoenix were lovely: beautiful landscaping along roadways, individual businesses and strip centers located among various desert plants and trees, neat and tidy residential sections. I’m sure there are areas that are not so desirable, as all cities have, but I saw very little of this.

We stopped for gas in north Phoenix and paid $3.25 per gallon. We wanted a full tank for the next stretch of the trip. From Phoenix, we took Highway 60 northwest to Wickenburg, then picked up Highway 93 to continue on to Kingman. This stretch requires about 3 hours and was a bit of a challenge for a flat-lander like me. About half of the stretch was divided 4 lane highway, but the other half was only 2 lanes, and there was lots of traffic and a bit of construction where they are adding more 4-lane roadway. Still, everyone should venture on this highway at least once, and we were glad we did so, though we will probably never go this way again.

As we neared Wickenburg, a canyon began paralleling us on the west. Although I never had a good view into the canyon, it was filled with trees, most turning a golden yellow in the autumn sun. Then we entered Wickenburg. I was not expecting anything here, but we were pleasantly surprised. This is a quaint little town, and I wish we had more time to enjoy it. I will definitely put it on my list of places to consider visiting if we pass this way again.

As we continued north along now Highway 93, we soon entered a stretch of Joshua trees. Although Joshua trees belong to the yucca family, they also resemble trees in many ways, thus their name.

Joshua Tree
Farther on, we encountered more saguaro trees. The saguaro is a large, tree-like cactus that has become synonymous with images of the Sonoran desert. 

Saguaro cactus
The highway began a series of ups and downs as it crept down into and out of canyons. In a land of few trees, you can always spot creeks, especially in autumn, as trees become thick along these precious natural water sources.

Besides Wickenburg, the only other town along this 3 hour stretch was Wikieup, a nondescript village of only 300 people or so.

We picked up Interstate 40 just over 20 miles east of Kingman, and that freeway was a welcome site. Kingman is an important and historic city in the western part of Arizona. It is located in a north/south valley. We mostly bypassed the town, but it is another place I’d like to tour when time allows.

It is only about 40 miles from Kingman to Laughlin. The first 20 or so miles is arrow straight and stretches due west. First, it goes down a slight decline as you leave Kingman, then it begins a gradual, then a sharper, ascent as it climbs to the top of a mountain ridge. From the top of the ridge, you can catch occasional glimpses of the Colorado River as it winds through the distant expanse like a silver ribbon reflecting in the late afternoon sun. The descent takes just about all of the 20 remaining miles, as the elevation at Laughlin is very low for this part of the country. As you approach, you can catch occasional glimpses of the hotels lining the river.

The descent continues until you reach the traffic light at the east end of the Laughlin bridge over the Colorado River. After 1086 miles, our journey to Laughlin was over. Now it was time to play.

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