Snowbirding 101

Beyond Laughlin

Unique and unusual attractions surround Laughlin, Nevada

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Calico mines
There are many interesting sights to see in Laughlin. — Photo by Lynne Benjamin

Laughlin, Nevada, sits across the Colorado River from Bullhead City, Arizona. It has its glitzy casinos, inexpensive rooms, wonderful buffets and affordable entertainment, but there is a whole lot more. It boasts some of the most interesting and unusual day trip sites, such as the new Skywalk into the Grand Canyon, nearby Route 66 and an abundance of old mines and resurrected ghost towns. California and the Mojave Desert are not far and offer intriguing, diverse terrains and geology along with unique human anomalies.

Oatman, Arizona

This resurrected gold mining town is located along Route 66. The restored buildings tell you the history of the town and that once Clark Gable slept there. There is a mine site you can explore and some touristy shops with good native crafts. The re-enacted gunfight at high noon (except it was 1:30) is a fun attraction along with the descendants of the old mine burros that wander freely about the town and beg carrots from the bystanders. Every Christmas bright-coloured bladders from wine boxes decorate bushes along the sides of the road leading to the town.

Chloride, Arizona

Chloride is another old mining town that dates back to the 1860s, when it boasted one of the richest silver mines in the area. Many of the original buildings have been restored. A lot of local artists have settled there and the small place is dotted with examples of their work.

The Sneaker Tree

Not wanting to drive the interstates, we chose Highway 177, then Highway 62 to Vidal Junction. This area is desolate. I can’t imagine breaking down here in the middle of summer, as the only thing going for you would be the solar-powered emergency call boxes every couple of miles.

Before we got to Vidal Junction we noticed a railway track that runs alongside the highway for about 25 miles. Most of the way along the gravel edge of the track people have placed rocks to spell out words. Some are just people’s initials; others are quite elaborate, with full poems and letters to loved ones. We have no idea how this got started or how old some of these are—but what a great idea.

The next strange thing to see on this stretch of road was what we nicknamed “the sneaker tree.” It is a large tree that is completely covered in people’s sneakers, cowboy boots and other forms of footwear. We were able to find a sneaker of our own to contribute to this tree’s unusual crop.

Calico, California

This silver mining town close by in California flourished up until the early 1900s. Walter Knott, (of the same family that started Knott’s Berry Farm) had worked some of the mines, took over the town and restored it. They have done an incredible job and it is well worth visiting.

Mitchell Caverns

These caverns are located in California in the Mojave National Preserve about 85 miles west of Laughlin. Take Exit 100 (about 20 miles into the preserve) into the desert. You will start climbing, eventually reaching a plateau where there is a small camping area and a ranger station.

Mitchell Caverns tours were started by a couple in the ’30s and were taken over by the California Department of Parks and Recreation to help preserve the natural resources. The public is not allowed into the caverns without a guide. Our guide did a good job of pointing out the unique features in the caverns and giving everyone the opportunity to take pictures. The formations are very delicate and dynamic and if they are touched, the oil from human skin will destroy them and they will no longer grow.

The tour started about half an hour after we arrived. We had the opportunity to wander around and learn about some vegetation and animals that call the Mojave home. The caverns are about half a mile from the station along a narrow path on the edge of the hill/mountain. The temperature outside on the walk was about 40 °F, and once you arrived inside, the temperature jumped to 63 °F, which is what it is all year round.

Once you enter the caverns, it’s like entering a different world. The first thing that hits you is the meaning of darkness. At one point, the guide turned off all sources of light and you knew the true meaning of dark. You could move your hand in front of your face and not know it was there.

The formations are awesome, coming from the floor as well as the ceiling (neither of us can remember which are stalagmites and which are stalactites). In some of the narrow passages you are able to get very close to them and it was at that point that you could see how they were formed over the course of centuries. So much to see, so much to do! Yes, spending time in and around Laughlin is much more than casinos and bright lights.

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