Ghost towns to explore, trails to see, gold mines to tour, and a fine steak or crab legs waiting back at headquarters. Your wife wants to spend a week by the pool with restaurants within walking distance. Your kids want to play on their ATVs or PWCs. And you want to go four-wheeling. There's only one place where your family can do it all - Laughlin, Nevada!
Laughlin is about 100 miles southeast of Las Vegas and about 5 miles north of the Mojave Road trailhead, just inside Nevada's southern-pointing arrowhead alongside the mighty Colorado River. With California to the south and Arizona across the river to the east, the area is known as the tristate area. And, it's an area that abounds with trails and historic places to visit, including several ghost towns.
Ignoring the Colorado River flowing beneath your hotel window, let's start with some close-in easy wheeling spots. State Route 163 (one of the shortest state routes in Nevada - it connects Casino Road with U.S. Route 95) heads westward, uphill to U.S. 95. All along its south side are hills and canyons that seem to be designed just for ATV riding. There are plenty of places to unload the ATVs or to camp, and the trails are perfect for family four-wheeling on ATVs. Some of them might even present a challenge for your stock SUV. With the exception of some dirt roads leading to coves and camping spots on the shores of Lake Mojave and the Christmas Tree Pass Road, the north side of S.R. 163 is off-limits to off-roading because it's all part of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. (Christmas Tree Pass Road is an unpaved "shortcut" between S.R. 163 and U.S. 95 that winds through some very scenic rock formations and past an extensive collection of ancient American Indian petroglyphs.)
Now let's head across the river for the closer of the two ghost towns we're going to visit on this trip to Laughlin: Cerbat, Arizona. Nevada S.R. 163 ends in the middle of the bridge, and Arizona S.R. 68 begins and immediately turns left at the Arizona side of the bridge. Follow S.R. 68 27 miles east through Golden Valley and toward Kingman. Hang a left on U.S. 93 (which goes across Hoover Dam back into Nevada) for 5.7 miles. Set your odometer because your next right turn, County Road 255, is very difficult to spot unless you slow down just before you get there. C.R. 125, a left turn, is very easy to spot. You'll follow C.R. 125 for a half mile, then turn right onto Cerbat Road. We'd suggest 4WD at this point because when we last visited the site the sand wash through which Cerbat Road goes is very soft. Just before the site of Cerbat, the road starts a shallow climb out of the sand wash until you're overlooking a currently operating mine just before reaching Cerbat.
Named for the mountain range where it's located, Cerbat is an Indian word meaning bighorn sheep, which were once common in the area (you might also be lucky enough to see wild horses in the Cerbat area). Cerbat mines began opening in the 1860s when rich gold and silver veins were found, and a settlement was born in the early 1870s (it was even the Mohave County seat for a few years in the '70s). Cerbat never had more than a hundred residents or so in its isolated location, yet it did have a doctor and a lawyer. Three mines were developed: the Esmeralda, the Golden Gem, and the Vanderbilt. Today, the Golden Gem Mill and the mine's head frame still stand among scattered debris, but nothing else is left of this once-active township. Please note: Keep track of your kids and dogs as there is a deep, uncovered shaft not far from the base of the mill and a few smaller shafts scattered about. Also, please don't bother the folks at the working mine. If they're bothered too much they could consider closing the road.
After visiting the site, you can head back to Laughlin where you can grab a shower and a steak before trying your chances at the slots or tables. Following a first-class breakfast the next morning, you're ready to tackle the longer trip to Swansea, which is southeast of Lake Havasu City, about 110 miles from Laughlin.
Swansea is arguably the best known, the most visited, and the best kept ghost town in Arizona, and it's well worth a visit. The BLM has taken it upon itself to maintain the buildings in Swansea in a state of what's called "arrested decay." The BLM has also erected several "cabanas" (covered picnic tables) around the townsite , so be sure to take picnic supplies with you - and don't forget your camera. In fact, the two-lane (for the most part) dirt road leading to Swansea is sufficient for an RV if you drive slowly, and the area around Swansea is great for extended exploring either with ATV or SUV (and Alamo Lake is nearby for quick dips to remove the dust of riding).
To reach Swansea, eat well and leave early because you'll be visiting three states today. Head south out of town on the Needles Highway, turn east on Interstate 40 in Needles, California. About 20 miles on I-40 into Arizona, take the offramp to Lake Havasu City (Arizona S.R. 95). Take a breather in Lake Havasu City to top off your fuel tank (it has the cheapest fuel prices in the tristate area) and continue south on S.R. 95 toward Parker.
Very near the Parker Dam (which holds back the waters of Lake Havasu), you'll turn left (east) on Planet Ranch Road, which is a dirt road (clear your trip odometer here). Even though it becomes an unnamed road, you continue on this road for 6.7 miles and turn right on Mineral Wash Road for 2.9 miles then left on Swansea Road. You'll stay on this road right into the center of "town."
Swansea is different than most other Southwestern ghost towns, it wasn't founded in the 19th century. It dates to 1908 and boasted electric lighting, an automobile dealer, and, naturally, several saloons. However, its mines closed in 1937. Perhaps because of its later birthday - and the lack of a nearby forest - many of the town's buildings were built of concrete or adobe rather than wood. For this reason, Swansea boasts some of the best preserved buildings in Arizona. In one of the buildings, you can see ceiling and flooring wood and even fixtures for electric lights. A wind storm in 1993 played havoc with some houses, but many other buildings remain at the site.
We feel another warning should be issued here. There are many open vertical mine shafts are in the area, so again watch your kids and dogs. The BLM guidebook indicates that some of the shafts are over 1,000 feet deep with eroded shaft collars and unstable, loose gravel around the edges. Be careful!
In addition to the cabanas, the BLM has set up an information board and guest log in the center of town. The board has a pretty good map and information on the buildings around you. The adobe miners' quarters now have tin roofs (the old ceilings and floorboards were exposed to the elements), which protect the artwork on the stucco walls. There are several outhouses in the area, and the railroad station appears to have repairs in progress to stucco and structure.
Cerbat and Swansea are just two high points in an area that shouts, "Come and see me!" During the warm months, you can play in the river and lakes; during the cool months you can wheel and explore the countryside.
If you visit Laughlin in the week of January 24-27, you can add SCORE's annual first off-road race of the season to the mix. The Laughlin Desert Challenge kicks off the year with two full days of racing. You can get up close and personal with the racers and with the track and enjoy all the excitement of the world's best high-speed racing.
Where To Stay?
With ten casino hotels in town - nine of them on the western bank of the Colorado River - you'll have no trouble finding a room, a restaurant, or a game. If you tow your vehicle with an RV, Riverside Casino owns a huge campground just across Casino Drive from the hotel, or you can dry-camp in any of the casinos' parking lots.
We've just given you a taste of the off-roading available in the tristate area. There are uncountable more trails within a hundred miles of Laughlin and many more ghost towns to visit, but we haven't the space here to list them. In addition to the Cerbat and Swansea roads, you'll find many trails more difficult. For some books on the subject, try 4-Wheel Drive Roads of Mohave County, 4-Wheel Drive Roads of Yavapai County, Arizona Ghost Towns and Mining Camps, Backcountry Adventures Arizona, and Ghost Towns of Arizona. These books are available at Hastings Book Store in Bullhead City, Arizona.
|GPS READINGS TO CERBAT||Latitude||Longitude|
|Downtown Laughlin||35 9.5746N||114 34.4591W|
|Casino Drive/NSR 163||35 10.3342N||114 34.2387W|
|Center of bridge||35 10.3078N||114 34.1619W|
|Left turn on ASR 68||35 10.3078N||114 33.9623W|
|Left turn on U.S. 93||35 13.2065N||114 7.5151W|
|Right turn on C.R. 255||35 16.8551N||114 10.5097W|
|Left turn on C.R. 125||35 17.2839N||114 9.8377W|
|Right turn on Cerbat Rd.||35 17.7538N||114 10.0027W|
|Cerbat||35 18.1864N||114 8.3682W|
|GPS READINGS TO SWANSEA||Latitude||Longitude|
|Downtown Laughlin||35 9.5746N||114 34.4591W|
|East on I-40||34 52.2904N||114 39.0615W|
|South on S.R. 95||34 43.7159N||114 19.0309W|
|Left turn on Planet Ranch Rd.||34 17.6809N||114 5.8161W|
|Right turn on Mineral Wash Rd.||34 15.3049N||114 0.6011W|
|Left turn on Swansea Rd.||34 12.8709N||113 59.9208W|
|Swansea||34 10.1982N||113 50.7629W|