Rides & Destinations: Laughlin, Nevada

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Bright lights in Laughlin, Nevada.
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Route 66 in the Mojave.

What: Laughlin, Nevada. A desert hot spot along the Colorado River and a great base camp for exploring southern Nevada, Arizona and California’s eastern Mojave Desert.
How to Get There: From the south, come in on I-40 and head north on either side of the Colorado River. From the north, take US 95 south from Vegas and then pick up the SR 163 east. From the east, grab SR 68 in Kingman and head west.
Best Kept Secret: The best kept secret is not a secret at all — it’s the In-N-Out Burger restaurant on Casino Drive in downtown Laughlin. Order off the secret menu, and tell them you want your burger Animal Style.
Avoid: The summer months (it’s too hot) and the annual Laughlin River Run (it’s too crowded).
More Info:laughlinnevadaguide.com

Nestled in the extreme southern tip of Nevada where Nevada, Arizona and California converge on the Colorado River, Laughlin’s history of human habitation starts 3,000 years ago with the Patayan and Anasazi peoples, later followed by the Mojave Native Americans. In 1540, Melchi Diaz explored the region, and in 1776 Franciscan missionary Francisco Garcés arrived. Garcés gave the Colorado River its name, but his story did not end well (the Quechan Indians killed him in the Yuma Uprising a bit farther south). Colorado River steamboats, U.S. Army exploration, extensive mining and the Davis Dam followed. Once construction on the Davis Dam finished in 1953, South Pointe (as Laughlin was known by then) fell on hard times.

South Pointe’s hard times changed in 1964 when Don Laughlin started buying property. Major casinos, hotels and others followed. Laughlin boomed and it became Nevada’s third most-visited resort town behind Las Vegas and Reno. The good times hit their peak in 1997, but then Laughlin’s fortunes turned, and the decline accelerated when the airlines stopped regular service to the area after 9/11. When the Great Recession hit in 2008, things continued to go south. In 1997, Laughlin had 4.7 million visitors; today, it’s around 2 million annually.

With all this doom and gloom, what does Laughlin have for us as a motorcycle destination? There are several things: It’s right on the Colorado River; it’s a convenient launch point for great riding; and it’s inexpensive. I first visited Laughlin in 1994 on my old Harley and I booked a room for $11. It’s not quite that inexpensive today, but a night in Laughlin still has to be the best deal in Nevada. To the south and east lies Oatman (an MC-featured destination in the July/August 2011 issue) — for some magnificent riding, head east on Oatman Road when leaving that Old West town. North of Laughlin, visit Grapevine Canyon in the Lake Mead Recreation Area to see ancient Native American petroglyphs (getting there involves a couple of miles on dirt roads and hiking in the rest of the way). To the west lies California’s eastern Mojave Desert, with incredible photo ops in quirky places like Amboy. Vegas is a quick 100 miles north. The Grand Canyon and Sedona (both previously featured in this magazine) are about 200 miles to the east. Like I said, Laughlin is a super base camp for exploring this region.

Getting to Laughlin is part of the fun, as there are no freeways running through town and the ride in from any direction is scenic. Our preferred route in is from the south along I-40. You can pick up the Needles Highway on the California side of the Colorado River for a twisty ride north, or you can do the same on the Arizona side by grabbing the Mohave Valley Highway, riding north through Bullhead City (directly across the river), and then crossing the river on a bridge built by Don Laughlin. Both roads are tight and twisty, cutting through low-lying hills formed by ancient erosion along the river.

As one of America’s hottest towns, Laughlin’s temperatures are usually above 110 degrees F in the summer (it hit 115 F the day I was there, and it went to 117 F the following day). Any other time of year is nice, with temperatures during the winter hovering around 70 F. As a motorcyclist, you may know Laughlin as home to the annual Laughlin River Run (the Western U.S. equivalent to Daytona or Sturgis). This may surprise you, but my advice is to avoid Laughlin during the River Run. Though the event was fun the first few years, it’s too crowded now. — Joe Berk

Motorcycle Classics Magazine
Motorcycle Classics Magazine
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