Saturday, November 18, 2017

Buckskin Mountain State Park and the Parker Strip

It was an easy 30 mile drive from Lake Havasu State Park to our next destination, Buckskin Mountain State Park. Located on the Colorado River just downstream from Parker Dam, Buckskin Mountain is a wonderful park with a mix of full hookup and partial hookup sites, tent sites, boat launch and hiking trails.

Just a few miles from our park is the Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge. Bill Williams River is only 40 miles long but is an important wildlife corridor as it cuts across a transition zone between the Mojave and Sonoran deserts before it empties into Lake Havasu just north of Parker Dam. The best way to access the refuge is near the visitor center on highway 95 and by kayaking up river from the lake. 

Not having kayaks, we drove the three mile Planet Ranch Road hoping to find some interesting hiking. It turns out the river goes underground at some points between Alamo Lake and Lake Havasu when water flows are low and only flows its full length above ground when water is released from Alamo Dam or during monsoon season. It was sad to see that years of drought have decimated some of the last stands of natural cottonwood-willow forest along Bill Williams River.

Bill Williams River was flowing for about a mile or so above Lake Havasu.
The cottonwood-willow forest along its banks was healthy and inviting,
but surrounded by a dense thicket of prickly mesquite trees that blocked our access to the river.

Reaching the end of Planet Ranch Road we finally found a place to hike.
That's when we discovered the underground portion of the river had probably not been above ground for years
and the forest was dying.

Dry Bill Williams riverbed, full of dead trees, kind of depressing to hike in.

Heading back towards hwy 95 we climbed a hill for a birds eye view of the river.
Looking west towards Lake Havasu we saw the lovely blue stripe of the Bill Williams River and its wetlands.
Looking east the forest overtakes the wetlands.
This would be a neat place to kayak!

We had better luck hiking the Buckskin Mountain State Park trails. There's a short trail that climbs the hill that separates the park from the highway and affords terrific views of the park.

A view of about half of the developed portion of Buckskin Mountain State park.
We can see part of our rig in the shadows on the right, backed up to the hill we are standing on.

The park has a pedestrian bridge over the highway leading to trails into the hills.

This area is an ecotone; a transition zone between two deserts: the Mojave and Sonoran, thus the presence of saguaros!

We did a loop drive that took us over Parker Dam into California and along the Colorado River down to Parker, AZ where we crossed the river once again and made our way north through the Parker Strip back to our park. Stopping to hike up a wash on the California side we discovered there are wild burros on the CA side of the river!

Parker Dam creates Lake Havasu.

Hiking in the hills on the California side of the Colorado River.

Some cute locals.

No trip to the Parker Strip area would be complete without a drive out to the Desert Bar. Located five miles out a dirt road, the Desert Bar (aka Nellie E. Saloon, named after the mining camp formerly on this site) is a hand built, off grid labor of love that is only open on the weekends in the cooler months. The easy way in is a fairly good dirt road (though I don't think I'd take a new looking Cadillac on it like we saw someone doing), and the hard way in is a rough dirt road used by those with real off road vehicles.

The church was built out of solid steel in the 1990's.
It's a great photo op and weddings have been held there, but no religious services.

The bar is an ever expanding complex, with live music, gift shop, multiple bars and food stands.
Quite the hopping joint and terrific people watching!

We thoroughly enjoyed site #12 at Buckskin Mountain State Park. We backed up to a rocky hillside with a neighbor on only one side, and plenty far away from us. Bird watching was excellent from our sitting area behind our rig. The hillside beyond our rig separates us from the highway so it was really quiet at night. Verizon and AT&T signals were very good with our booster.

Site # 12.

Awesome sitting area.

Rosie liked this park too!

We saw this beautiful roadrunner at least twice a day.

We got to experience a day in the life of a loggerhead shrike. One morning as I surveyed the bird activity in the bushes behind our rig I noticed a bird seemed to be pecking at another bird on the ground. It turns out a loggerhead shrike had killed an inca dove, no wonder it's known as Arizona's butcher bird!

Later I saw the shrike sitting atop the boulders surrounding our site, probably looking for its next victim. Then, while sitting outside watching the bird activity with my binoculars I saw the shrike flitting around in a nearby tree. On closer inspection with the binos I saw bird feet sticking up from the branch of a mesquite. True to form, the shrike had stuck about half of the inca dove onto a mesquite sticker so it could feast on its catch over time...gruesome but fascinating.

Half an inca dove impaled on a mesquite tree.

These quail are taking dust baths in the loose soil under a mesquite tree.

Arizona has the best sunsets!

Next up: a brief stay in Yuma.


  1. Thanks for the loggerhead shrike link. I did not realize they ate other birds.
    Cute photo of the burros, and Rosie, of course!

  2. I was really surprise to see a Loggerhead shrike kill another bird, in my case a little sparrow! We enjoyed our stay at Buckskin and hiked the trails across the street too but we did not meet your cute locals.

  3. Rosie is so cute climbing the tree! I'm glad she's enjoying her traveling adventures. That's quite a wildlife rich area -- love the wild burros and your friendly roadrunner. :-)

  4. We love that whole area. We've driven past buckskin state park a bunch of times, but never stayed there. And everyone should go to the desert bar, at least once.

  5. Wonderful post on one of my favorite places. We’ve been going there for 18 years, meeting friends from other places. On those rocks behind your campsite, we often see chuckwallas sunning themselves.

    1. Chuckwallas! Now that is cool. I've been watching for them for years with no luck!

  6. Thanks for the info on the NWR. We'll be spending February in Lake Havasu City and I'm always looking for interesting excursions. Nature is fascinating to observe even though not always pleasant - the circle of life. Fantastic sunset photo. I never get enough of those amazing AZ skies.

  7. Great post! Why does the water seem to be the same height on both sides of the dam?

    1. Weird illusion! It is lower, but not by a great deal.

  8. I really need to get us into that park - it's so pretty! Love your road runner and your bathing quail. Shrikes are gruesome survivors in a hostile environment, and they look so "sweet" :-)) Glad you had fun at the Desert Bar. Gorgeous sunset.

  9. Love the photo with the saguaro and the window in the rock:) You found some great hikes. The burro are so cute. After reading about the Strikes, I was concerned when I saw the quail. Thanks goodness they were just bathing! I was hoping to get to the Desert Bar when we were in Havasu, but they are only open on the weekend as you mentioned. Glad you got see it first hand. Rosie looks so happy in the tree:)

  10. Those burros are cute! And some wildlife sightings right in your campground. Interesting bar in the middle of nowhere (I remember Hans telling me you were going to visit there).

  11. Thanks for the information on the loggerhead shrike. I had heard of them but had no idea that they killed other birds. Finding burros in the wild is always great. Rosie looks very much at home in the tree.

  12. What a beautiful spot! I'd love to kayak there. I'm now putting this on "The List for Next Year". Thanks for the camp/cell info.

  13. Love the locals in Parker! The Desert Bar sounds like fun. And Rosie looks quite “at home” in her tree!