La Paz County Arizona is a county of contradictions. The newest county in the state, it holds a history of some of the deepest and richest history human habitation in the region. The second-least populous county in Arizona, La Paz County swells with millions of visitors in the winter months as desert temperatures drop to comfortable daytime averages in the mid-70s to 80 degrees Fahrenheit and events from desert racing to mineral and gem shows draw seasonal tourists, curious visitors, and part-time residents to enjoy all that La Paz County Arizona has to offer.
County Overview and History
La Paz County Arizona has summer high temperatures that go up in excess of 120 degrees Fahrenheit and winter lows that sometimes get near freezing. Among the beauty and wonder of the natural environment in the area, two of the great geologic features of the western half of North America define the county: the lower run of the Colorado River on the west and the vast swath of Sonoran Desert across the south of the county.
Named for an original town that was famous in the area in a time long past, La Paz County began in 1983 when voters approved a measure to separate from Yuma county to the south. The old town, La Paz, was long since gone by then, but had started as a gold mining town in 1862. It was possibly named after a namesake city further south, either in Baja California or Bolivia. The Arizona Territory didn’t yet exist when La Paz was founded in 1862, so it was part of the New Mexico Territory originally, at least until 1863 when Abraham Lincoln created the Arizona territory and La Paz, located up against the Colorado River near the far border of the new territory, went west with Arizona.
Bordered on the north by the Bill Williams River and Lake Havasu, and on the west by the Colorado River, La Paz County is an example of extremes: a harsh dry Sonoran Desert bordered completely on two sides by water flows. The Parker Strip is a 17-mile stretch of Colorado River known for water sports ranging from jet skiing and waterskiing to parasailing and windsurfing as well as old fashioned pursuits like swimming and fishing. Locals and visitors flock to the Strip for fun at the beach. The annual tube float brings hundreds of soakers onto the river on large inflated tubes to follow the current downstream together.
Where the water gathers at Lake Havasu the Blue Water Resort and Casino hosts visitors by the millions every year for gaming and fun. Just about a four hour drive from Phoenix to the east, Parker is located near enough to big population centers to draw crowds for the boat racing events, desert racing events, and other popular entertainment at the resort.
Called the “Jewel of the Colorado River,” the Emerald Canyon Golf & Resort welcomes visitors to the peaceful course along the lake. Tournaments and individual play fill the golf course. Vacationers soak up the sun and spa treatments at the resort, especially during the busy winter months when temperatures are more moderate and comfortable for golfing and relaxing along the lake.
Constructed over about five years spanning 1934 through 1938, the Parker Dam sits approximately 155 miles downriver from the Hoover Dam. Built to create a reservoir for holding and using freshwater in the desert region and to drive a hydropower plant, the Parker Dam accomplishes both tasks. Lake Havasu is 647 acre feet of water contained by the dam and the power plant drives four Francis twin turbines at 97% efficiency through water pouring over the channels of the concrete arch gravity dam.
When it was built, Parker Dam was the deepest in the world, with some 235 feet of its total 320-foot height beneath the level of the riverbank. The controversy fueled by the proposal and construction of the dam brought out the Arizona National Guard on the governor’s orders to hold the territory on the Arizona side of the Colorado temporarily as the dispute went on over who would get the water and who would be responsible for the behemoth wall of concrete in the desert.
The 85 feet or so that are above ground form the concrete gravity arch of the dam, holding back some 210 billion US gallons that form Lake Havasu. When the water pours down through four concrete chutes and over the turbines of the power plant the force generates electricity to power the surrounding community and to send water across the desert to irrigate Southern California.
In 1934 when the dam project was set to begin construction, Arizona Governor Benjamin B Moeur wasn’t having it. First the governor sent out an exploratory troop consisting of a handful of National Guardsmen to inspect the fledgling dam site and to confirm that it was, indeed, about to be constructed on Arizona territory, on the east bank of the Colorado River. When the surveillance party reported back that the governor’s information was correct, that dam construction was beginning on the Arizona side of the river, he called out more troops to take the territory back and stop the dam building.
The Arizona National Guard forces arrived at the construction site alongside the Colorado River on the governor’s orders, and took control over the territory to halt construction. As they had commandeered a ferry on the river in the process, the stories circulated that the Arizona Army was now the Arizona Navy.
The dispute went to court for resolution, of course, and construction resumed in due course. Upon completion of the related California River Aqueduct project, water delivery to the cities of Southern California from the lake commenced. A full fifty percent of the power generated at the dam goes to power the pumps that send the water across the desert to San Bernadino, LA, Anaheim, and parts of San Diego that rely on the water impounded in the Colorado River, hundreds of miles away.
Built by way of a $220 million bond, the California River Aqueduct project was a major engineering effort. Just the portion involving the San Jacinto Tunnel, running 13 miles through the mountains on the way to Los Angeles, took some six years of labor to construct. Without the freshwater from the Colorado River delivered directly to the communities of Southern California, though, there would be no lush green life on the coastal plains, so the battles fought over the water in the desert had real stakes in the development of the lands west of La Paz County.
Communities of the County
Near the middle of western Arizona, La Paz County features incorporated cities including the county seat, Parker, as well as Quartzite, and many smaller towns and communities such as Hope, Vicksburg, Ehrenburg, Bouse, Salome, and more. The Colorado River Indian Tribes, often known by the acronym CRIT, include groups of the Mohave, Chemehueri, Hopi, and Navajo peoples.
Colorado River Indian Tribes
Parts of four different tribes, from the Mohave, Chemehueri, Hopi, and Navajo peoples make up the CRIT in Arizona, of which there are 4070 active members. Set aside by the federal government as a home for the tribal peoples in the area in 1865, the CRIT reservation consists of 300,000 acres on both sides of the Colorado River in La Paz County, Arizona and across the river in California. Parker is the primary community of the CRIT, with Poston another important community, just about 10 miles south. Traditionally the industry of the people has centered on tending to and growing native Mesquite trees and gathering products for market from them. The income of the tribes is now supplemented significantly by tourism through the ownership of the Blue Water Resort & Casino.
Museum and Library
The CRIT Museum and Library is a cultural preserve for many artifacts, items, and information about the people who called the area home for countless generations in the past. The people of the Mohave, Chemehueri, Navajo, and Hopi who are the native residents of the area have contributed culturally important items and objects for display and education at the museum and library. The CRIT Museum is located in Parker at 2d and Mohave on Highway 95. Donations are suggested for visitors to show their appreciation of the effort and value of the history and knowledge on display in the museum and library. Visit the gift shop on your stay at the museum to take home lasting gifts and memorabilia to recall your time in native territory in La Paz County Arizona.
Although it has stood its ground in La Paz County near Bouse since time immemorial, the fisherman intaglio, or large scale ground art, was first noticed in modern times by a pilot in 1932 who saw the distinctive shape of a human form with arms outstretched that is visible in its entirety only from the air. The art was confirmed on another fly-over sponsored by the CRIT in the 90s, and other shapes have been found throughout the county of human and animal forms and geometrical and other distinct patterns intended to be visible from above that mark human creation on the earth from time long since passed.
A quiet stretch of river southwest of Parker is set aside as the Ahakhave tribal preserve for nature and human enjoyment. A great spot for birding and hiking through native riparian areas to enjoy the richness of desert life as it comes in contact with flowing water, the 1253 acre tribal preserve lets visitors slow down to the pace of natural life of the region and observe the native wildlife and flora. The natural preserve is an alcohol free zone and fishing is permitted only with a permit from the tribe, available in Parker. With areas for family gatherings and individual wandering along the shore of the Colorado River, the preserve is an ideal destination for a picnic or a bird-watching adventure.
While two-thirds of the Sonoran Desert stretch south through the states of Sonora and Baja California Del Sur in Mexico, most of the rest of the unique biosphere is in Arizona, and it continues westward to where it ends in Southern California. The desert is a rare bi-seasonal subtropical desert that gets rain in the winter and again in July and August every year, supporting richer and more diverse life than many typical deserts that receive one annual rainfall on average. The Sonoran Desert is the most complex desert in North America, with subdivisions including the Colorado and Mojave Desert adjoining the perimeter of the region. Modern irrigation to the west of the area has given rise to rich agricultural areas on the edge of the desert like the Coachella Valley in California.
Some 9000 US GIs moved into La Paz County, at Camp Bouse and other sites of the Desert Training Facility between 1941 and 1942. Organized under the direction of General George S Patton, the desert camps were the place to train and prepare US troops for desert combat against Nazis a half a world away, in North Africa. Rommel’s forces had been experiencing success in the African theater and were threatening to advance and possibly take the vital Suez Canal, so an urgent request went out for support from the US.
Seeing the Sonoran Desert as North America’s best answer to the harsh conditions of the great African desert, Patton set up a string of training bases across Southern California and Western Arizona and brought thousands of troops to learn to survive and fight in the tough conditions. Camp Bouse, near the current city of Bouse, was the most top-secret of the entire hush-hush project, not even listed on the directory of training camps with the other dozen sites around the area. They practiced artillery fire drills and desert maneuvers and even got a turn at the “Big Gizmo” super tank project that was supposed to bring an end to the war. In the end, the war in Africa came to a natural end as the Nazi troops stalled and were defeated in 1944, ending the need for the desert training facilities in La Paz County.
County Seat Overview and History
In 1908 the town of Parker was established on the east bank of the Colorado river. Parker Arizona has been the county seat of La Paz County since the county was formed in 1983 by a vote to split off from Yuma County. . The history of the city goes back much further, to the 1930s when Parker Dam grew amid controversy and dispute, and back further still to 1908 when the town arose in support of the mining and transportation routes that spanned the area at the end of the 19th and turn of the 20th century around La Paz, Arizona.
Since 1972, when it was called the Big River ‘400,’ one of the best-known desert races happens in the deserts of La Paz County. The off-road competition has attracted top drivers and curious spectators for more than forty years, as it was known as the Dam ‘400,’ the Parker ‘400,’ and finally now the Blue Water Resort & Casino ‘425’ over the years since it started. Competitors challenge themselves against other desert racers and the elements to navigate the tricky, sprawling course and take home the trophy.
Non-professional drivers can take similar trails throughout the rest of the year to explore the desert and ramble among the lost towns and scattered bits of history throughout La Paz County and beyond. The Arizona Peace Trail represents the work of government agencies from the federal, state, county, and regional levels combining with private land owners and citizen activists from off-road enthusiast groups to combine individual trails throughout the spread-out region into a cohesive loop that connects trails running from Bullhead City on the north down to Yuma on the south.
A lot of land in the area is controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, so they were heavily involved in the process of defining and creating the Arizona Peace Trail, of course, as was the Arizona Game & Fish Division and the three county governments on the west side of Arizona: Mohave, La Paz, and Yuma.
Initially two area OHV groups in 2013 or so, the Bouse Ghostriders and the Arizona Sun Riders Club out of Quartzite, started working with government agencies and private landowners to define routes and look for areas to link up trails into a larger, interconnected system throughout the area. Currently spanning some 700 miles of related trails over three counties in Sonoran Desert terrain, the Arizona Peace Trail spans some 210 linear miles, if following US Route 95 south from Bullhead City to Yuma.
La Paz Incident
The year 1863 was an exciting time in the booming mining town of La Paz, Arizona Territory. While the US Civil War raged in the east, mountain main Pauline Weaver had discovered gold in the area in 1862 and a rush was on to settle in and claim some valuable land. The city quickly grew, and disputes spilled over, including one called the “La Paz Incident,” which is recorded as the furthest west confrontation of the Civil War.
Most of city business was peaceful as homes and hotels, stores, saloons, mining camps, and other places sprung up in the desert to meet the growing demand for support of the gold rush going on in town and in the mountains and rivers nearby. Over the frantic years 1863 to ’64 a total of 50,000 troy ounces of gold was shipped out of La Paz, and fortunes rose or fell on striking a piece of the active producing vein while it lasted. By the mid-1860s the area was played out, the mineral strikes were done, and the treasure hunters moved on.
From 1864 through about 1870, though, La Paz was considered as a front-runner for the role of the Arizona Territorial capital. The town was the biggest community in the entire territory. By 1868 it was clear, though, that the ore that had supported the town in its mining boom and rapid growth was no longer producing the value of previous years.
The town went on for a time as a transport hub, serving steamers on the Colorado River that had previously arrived to load up and ship off the mineral treasures of the area, that now brought supplies and materials to be distributed elsewhere to new mining towns throughout the county. In a final quirk of fate, though, the Colorado River shifted its course westward enough that the town of La Paz was left high and dry, with no more access to the transport waterway and no more purpose for being. The population plummeted, down to 254 by 1890, and the town ultimately perished and withered in the desert sun, today only a remnant of one of the area’s many ghost towns.
Drive the 60
Communities along Route 60 accent the stark beauty of the Sonoran Desert, from Brenda on the west on through Hope, Vicksburg, Salome, and continuing through Wenden on the east of the stretch of 60 through La Paz County. The road is studded as well with stops leading to old towns, historical locations, mines, and other assorted desert treasures. In Salome, the legendary Cactus Bar sits on the spot it has occupied for 80 years, the classic adobe modern structure in the form of the original, hosting karaoke and live music various nights of the week. A walking tour of the history of the area begins at the McMullen Valley Chamber of Commerce Building.
Some twenty-nine miles along Highway 72 from the California-Arizona border, Bouse was a mining town in the form of a tent city in its early years around 1860. By 1930, nearby mining town Swansea was booming and the ore that had supported Bouse had gone bust. The town went on as an agricultural and transport juncture for the region.
In 1942 General George S Patton made the area the site of a top-secret military training camp. Camp Bouse was unlisted among the dozen desert training locations scattered throughout the Sonoran Desert from California to Arizona. Troops stationed there learned desert survival and battle techniques, and tried out new technologies that were designed to bring the war to an end, like the Big Gizmo tank, on display at the Desert Training Center Museum.
Modern Bouse is known for its unique strength of community, with a herd of long-time local residents and a flock of regular sunbirds who travel to the area in the winter for the climate and bring with them a booming economy and population. History abounds around the area, from the site of the Alaska Hotel that was the Assay Office in 1902 onward, and the mining shack from 1910 that originally sat in Swansea but was donated and moved to Bouse as part of the mining museum.
In the heart of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, at 879 feet above sea level, lies the historic town of Quartzite. Known for its pleasant sunny warm wintertime climate, the town offers more than 60 RV parks to host the thousands of visitors who flock to the town through the winter, fleeing harsh snow and cold in the north.
Even more visitors pour into town for the annual Gem & Mineral Show, where some of the most stunning treasures that have been extracted from the earth in the area are on display, many for sale and some for viewing only. Attendees find just the right gift for loved ones or a memoriam from their time in the mineral-rich desert with its legends of fortunes won and lost in the hills around Quartzite. Locals and visitors savor the stunning desert views in the valley that is ringed by low hills. Sunsets are legendary for their rich colors and memorable solar descent into peaceful desert evening after a warm winter day.
The Currier House was home to brothers Benjamin and John Currier in the early 1900s in Quartzite. The talented brothers were actors, miners, and prospectors who worked claims variously in Colorado, California, and Arizona, including the nearby Plomosa Mountains. The old adobe structure with its small forge that the brothers used in their work is among the finest original adobe structure in Quartzite. The brothers lived in town from the turn of the century until their passing in 1941 (Benjamin) and 1942 (John).
Ehrenberg and Cibola
The towns of Ehrenberg and Cibola were once transit hubs for Californians on the way to the treasure fields of the La Paz rush and other mineral strikes throughout the region. Earlier even then these travelers, the Cibola area was host to the native peoples, especially of the Mohave and Quechan groups. The Cibola refuge showcases a diverse range of native plants and desert creatures, as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
Around 1863 a town known as Mineral City began to develop around the ferry port of the brothers Isaac and William Bradshaw. In 1866 the town was renamed for surveyor Ehrenberg (who had been killed in Dos Palmas, California). The port thrived and sent tons of minerals like copper, gold, and silver from the Arizona mines to the banks and businesses of the west in the 1870s along the Colorado River.
County Courthouse – Overview and History
Judge Hagley’s white clapboard home was the courthouse in his day. Born in Quartzite, Judge Hagley went on to serve with US forces in World War I. Upon returning to his native town he won election to the post of Justice of the Peace in the 1940s, and then he presided over court matters in the living room of his house by day and lived upstairs at night nearly from then on through 1977 when he passed away.
History and Mystery – Ghost Towns and Forgotten Mines
Like all areas of wilderness and desert terrain, exploring the uninhabited areas around La Paz County takes some common sense and reasonable preparation. There is little water available, so any ventures in the area, by car, off-road vehicle, horse, bike, or hiking, should include adequate water supplies for each person (and animal) in the group.
Know where you are going before you venture off. Leave word with friends, park rangers, or others as to your route so that in the event of trouble you can be found. Cell phone service is unpredictable and often unreliable in some of the remote areas of the county. Dress appropriately for extreme heat and intense sunshine, which can be offset by dramatic temperature drops at night to very cool temperatures. Be prepared for changes and carry appropriate gear. Rain can be heavy in July and August, as well as less intense rains on occasion throughout the winter months. Rain can cause flash flooding in desert canyons and gullies. Be aware of conditions and know your location.
The town of Swansea, Arizona was inspired by its namesake, Swansea, Wales in Great Britain, another mining town like the one that grew up in the desert from the late 1800s on. What remains of the ghost town are a large brick smelter that served the mine, a dozen or so buildings, and the remnants of a thriving town a century ago. In the early 1900s the Clara Consolidated Gold & Copper Mining Company took over the operations and oversaw a boom time in population growth and production from the mines.
The Clara Consolidated closed operations in 1912 but other interests took it over and continued the mining and smelting in the area until 1924, when the town finally died out. To get to Swansea take Arizona Highway 72 about 27 miles southwest out of Parker, take Main Street NW and turn L onto Raydar Road to follow the dirt road to the Bouse Y trailhead, take the left fork, Swansea Road proceed 5.7 miles to Four Corners Road and continue 7.2 miles to Swansea.
The Harquahala Post Office was established in March 1891. The town grew up in support of the Bonanza and Gold Eagle veins, which were first hit back in Nov. 1888. Famous for casting gold into 400-pound ingots that broke the transport wagon floors, the town had its own newspaper, the Harquahala Miner. The post office closed 31 Dec. 1932 and the town was done. Few ruins remain for intrepid visitors who come to explore the memories of another rich mining town gone back to nothing in the harsh Arizona desert.
Planet, Arizona got its start around 1863, when the Planet Copper mine was considered the “second copper mine in Arizona worked by Americans.” The town got a post office in March of 1902, which remained active almost twenty years until March 1921. To find the place that had been Planet take Swansea Road from Bouse on State Route 72 to Four Corners. Continue on Swansea Cutoff Road, and then find Planet Road on the right; continue to the Planet gate. The road is comfortable for 2-wheel drive vehicles.
In Silent the citizens lived in dugouts. There were three general mercantile stores, a hotel, saloon, dance hall, and other assorted businesses in support of the Red Cloud Mine. In Nov. 1880 Silent Post Office was established. It lasted only until 13 Mar. 1884 and was closed. Currently there is a watchman on duty at Silent, as the Red Cloud Mine today is the primary world supplier of Wulfenite.
The Winchester mine, discovered by Dick Wick Hall, attracted some 2000 residents virtually overnight. With a telephone line and an auto stage line to Vicksburg, Winchester was the largest town along the Arizona-California railroad. Gold was struck 15 Mar. 1909 and within a month, by April 1909, the mine had supplied some $30,000 worth of gold, and was done. Played out. The short lived town remains one of the striking stories of boom and bust, fortune and failure, among the faded cities of the Arizona desert in La Paz County.
Tyson’s Well Stage Museum
In 1866, the source for water for travelers, locals, and their animals was Tyson’s Well along the stage route. The town grew to provide meals and accommodations for those on the Arizona stage going overland toward California or heading east after having been to the coast. In 1893 Tyson’s Well had its first post office. Today historical remnants and memories are available for curious visitors and modern travelers passing through the area.
Often called the “Lighthouse in the Desert,” the only stable water source between Wickenberg and Ehrenberg was found at Cullen’s Well. It was started in the mid-1880s by Charles C. Cullen, and the legend goes that a young man on his way through died within shouting distance of the life-saving fresh water of the well, as it was night time when he approached and he could not see the well just ahead. A light on a pole was installed after the incident and the name “Lighthouse in the Desert” applied to the well. Only a part of the well remains a century and a half later, but the legend highlights the power of the desert over people in a previous time, when travel was not so automatic and easy and life depended on one’s community and knowing the resources around you.
Founded in 1928, Brenda was named for the daughter of homesteaders Grover and Anna Spitznagel (her twin brother, Bruce, had no community named for him). The town supported the Ramsey Mine, about ten miles south, which was active from 1921 through 1960. When the mine closed and the I-10 bypass went around town, Brenda faded out, but has revived in modern times with a growing RV community of residents who travel to the area seasonally and enjoy the climate and beauty of the desert along with the history and stories that come with the town.
The founder of Salome, Dick Wick Hall, is featured on a marker and gravestone at Center and Hall Street in town.
The Harrisburg Pioneer Cemetary is the final resting place of 33 original residents of town. Markers tell stories of lives lived in transition; born in cities far to the east some years before and died in the 19th century in a small Arizona desert town.
Tyson’s Well and some early Quartzite pioneers are interred at the “Hi Jolly Cemetary” named for Hadji Ali (Philip Tedro) the camel master for the US Army’s experimental camel corps that crossed through the region in the 1850s.
Source for the county name and one of the most distinct communities in the colorful history of Arizona’s territorial past, La Paz was actually in New Mexico territory when it was established in 1862. The following year President Lincoln created Arizona territory, of which La Paz was one of the main towns. While the town was famous for the quantity of minerals produced, and as the farthest west confrontation in the US Civil War, all that remain of the town are some crumbling stone foundations and a historical marker signifying the deep history of the once powerful little town in the remote southwest.
Since the county voted to split off from Yuma County in 1983 the La Paz County Sheriff has been on the job, overseeing county roads and laws from Parker to Quartzite and in all the unincorporated areas of the county. Current Sheriff William “Bill” Risen oversees the department and all its divisions from boating safety to traffic patrol and much more on the water, roadways, and byways of La Paz County. In the 35 years since its founding, La Paz County has had six sheriffs, including the first five:
• Rayburn Evans
• Marvin Hare
• Hal Collett
• Don Lowery
• John Drum
The La Paz County Sheriff’s Department serves local residents, visitors, and travelers with safety and first responder services to maintain quality of life, independence, and peace in the area.
Parker Police Department
Parker Police Department serves the 6000 plus residents and many more annual visitors to the town everyday throughout the year. Services and departments include patrol, school resource officers, boating safety, animal control, civil, criminal investigation, and more.
Quartzite Jail sits about 100 yards off of the street, behind the large metal building that is the current jail. A 12-foot by 12-foot concrete building, with the door from the former territorial prison in Yuma, the jail held inmates and drunks overnight to transfer to Yuma for trial.
Distance and General Direction from Parker to Phoenix
Parker, the county seat of La Paz County Arizona, sits on the east bank of Colorado River, about 154 miles northwest of Phoenix. By car, I-10 southbound by way of Arizona 72 and Arizona Route 95 is the quickest route from the county seat of La Paz County to Phoenix, the state capital.