When we hear about London Bridge, we think it is obvious to find it in London. But after I moved to Arizona, almost three decades ago, I learned I could visit it in my new home state, in the middle of the dry cactus-filled desert. Intrigued, my family drove to Lake Havasu City to see it.
Besides the bridge, the clear skies, water in the desert, small gift shops, and several excellent restaurants to choose from for a meal ensured that we had a great time.
We returned to Lake Havasu City on a recent trip, and I have to admit, my first reaction upon seeing the London Bridge in Arizona remained the same. As intriguing as it is, I feel it is out of place; it does not belong here. Maybe it doesn’t, but it got my family to drive to Lake Havasu City, a place we haven’t considered visiting otherwise. It also attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world to a patch of desert in an out-of-the-way corner of Arizona.
And that was the original idea of bringing the bridge here.
Bringing The London Bridge To Arizona
When the city of London was selling the London Bridge in 1967, Lake Havasu City’s founder, Robert P. McCulloch, saw an opportunity. He believed — and history proved him right so far — that the famous landmark would attract tourists and prospective buyers to the new town in the desert.
So, he bought it in 1968 for $2.4 million and shipped it brick by brick to the Arizona desert. He also included the ornate lamp posts made from melted-down cannons captured by the British from Napoleon’s army after the battle of Waterloo in 1815. You can see them lining the bridge today.
To transport it, the bridge was dismantled, numbering each of its 10,276 exterior granite blocks, and shipped to Lake Havasu City. The blocks traveled overseas through the Panama Canal to Long Beach, California, and from there, brought by truck to their ultimate destination in Arizona.
But to have water flowing underneath, McCulloch had a manmade canal dredged from the Colorado River, costing him another $7 million (more than triple the price of the bridge).
A Short History Of The London Bridge
By the time the city was selling it, the London Bridge had been connecting its two sides for over a century. Designed in 1799 by Scottish engineer John Rennie, and completed in 1831, it replaced the older stone bridge made famous by the nursery rhyme dating from 1209.
It may not have been “falling down,” however, the new London Bridge was sinking into the river Thames at a rate of one inch every 8 years because of the weight of the new car traffic. There was no way of fixing it, but instead of demolishing it, the city of London tried selling it. As the highest bidder, McCulloch bought it to bring it to Arizona.
Reassembled brick by brick, the London Bridge is no longer sinking. To reduce its weight, the inside of the bridge is hollow, while its steel framework faced with granite strengthens its structure. It took 3 years to reconstruct, and Lake Havasu rededicated it on October 10, 1971.
People From All Over The World Visit The London Bridge In Lake Havasu City
Aside from its historical value, the London Bridge was the catalyst to build a city in the desert centered on water. That alone is reason enough for Arizonans to spend time in Lake Havasu City. But the bridge attracts visitors from all over the world, as it is one of the most popular manmade attractions in Arizona.
History buffs, photographers, filmmakers, writers, boaters, kayakers, paddle boarders, and tourists are just some visitors to the Arizona desert city and its famous bridge from London. The following are several reasons they are all attracted to it.
Opportunities To Learn About The Area’s History
An 18th-century bridge once used in London is a unique sight in the desert. Besides the bridge’s history, visitors learn about local history, before and after the city’s existence. The Lake Havasu Museum of History showcases exhibits about the Native American Chemehuevi and Mohave tribes, desert flora, and fauna, the Colorado River, geology and mineralogy of the region, beside the more recent history of building Parker Dam, Lake Havasu, and the London Bridge.
Walk Across A Possibly Haunted Bridge
According to local legends, several ghosts came across the ocean with the bridge. Ghost stories range from seeing men or women dressed in 18th century English clothing to dark ominous figures floating above the bridge to bizarre boating accidents and hearing blood-curdling screams.
The hosts of the show Ghost Adventures came to Arizona to investigate the local stories and concluded skeletons might be buried within the bridge’s walls.
Visit An English Village In Arizona
When Lake Havasu City rededicated the London Bridge to attract more visitors, McCulloch Properties also built an open-air mall called the English Village on the northeast side of the bridge.
However, McCulloch Properties only meant it as a temporary commercial center to attract potential residents. After selling all the home lots, it no longer needed it. However, by then, locals and visitors fell in love with the concept and several investors tried to recreate its atmosphere as a family entertainment destination.
Though they failed in keeping the original structures, today the Go Lake Havasu bureau of tourism operated a remodeled Visitor Center and several English-style buildings in a small area of the original English Village.
See Lighthouses In The Desert
You wouldn’t expect to see lighthouses in a landlocked desert state like Arizona, yet Lake Havasu City is home to more of them than any other city in the country. They are not full-size lighthouses though, to be fair, but scaled-down replicas of famous lighthouses.
You’ll find replicas of those from the east coast on the east shores of the lake, of those from the west coast on the west side, and those from the Great Lakes on the island. But just because they are smaller than the originals, they are still actual functional navigational aids, built for safety at night on the lake for boating and fishing. Those on the western shores use a green light, while those on the east coast use red. Lighthouses only use a flashing amber light for emergency situations and mean safe harbor.
You’ll find a list of all lighthouses and directions to them at the Visitor Center at the English Village, though if you spend enough time around the lake, you’ll notice them on your own.
Sandy Beaches With Swimming Opportunities Year Round
Another unexpected sight in a desert state is the abundance of sandy beaches along the lake, comfortable for swimming from May through September. About 400 miles of coastline offers opportunities for sunbathing, relaxing in the warm sand, and picnicking and swimming. With no riptide currents or other dangers, the freshwater lake offers a safe place to swim.
Pro Tip: The only place you can’t swim in Lake Havasu is the Bridgewater Channel, illegal for safety issues around moving boats.
Boating And Fishing
Probably the number one reason most people visit Lake Havasu City is for the boating and fishing opportunities. One of America’s best boating lakes, Lake Havasu offers ideal boating conditions with its near-constant water level and great weather year round.
From slow pontoon rides through the Bridgewater Channel to high-speed boats to houseboats, you’ll find everything on the lake. Fishing boats are also added to the mix, since Lake Havasu is also one of the best fishing lakes in the U.S., with a healthy and sustainable ecosystem.
With all these boating experiences available, the water gets a bit too crowded in the summer months. But if you avoid the high season, you can spend some time in the water.
Or, you can opt for some sightseeing, away from the most popular areas. On a boat from Lake Havasu, you can explore the lower Colorado River with scenic canyons, stunning cliffs, and abundant wildlife.
The water might be the primary draw to Lake Havasu, but land lovers also find plenty of opportunities to enjoy the surroundings. An extensive network of hiking trails featuring a wide variety of terrain offers plenty of opportunities to hikers of all levels to enjoy the gorgeous scenery.
Trails range from short, paved paths to steep, rocky slopes, and everything in between, offering views of lakeside scenery, desert views, unique rock formations, and abandoned mining areas.
On quieter trails, hikers may see a diversity of wildlife, with coyotes, rabbits, bighorn sheep among them, along with many species of birds.
Pro Tip: Keep in mind that you are in the desert. Avoid hiking in the summer months, and even in the winter, take plenty of water, wear a hat and sunscreen, and proper hiking shoes.
Birdwatching — And Bats
Lake Havasu and the surrounding area are also a perfect destination for birdwatchers. Over 355 bird species identified in the area offer a dream opportunity for birdwatchers to go out and identify them. Opportunities to go out early in the morning on a canoe or kayak from Castle Rock Bay and Mesquite Bay Central offer some of the best ways to observe these birds. On land, the free fishing piers at Mesquite Bay North and south on London Bridge Road offer the best opportunities.
Besides birds, visitors to the London Bridge have opportunities to watch bats fly at dusk, since the bridge itself is home to hundreds of them, living in its hollow center.
Arizona has loads of unique sites that appeal to travelers: