January 16, 2019

Lake Havasu Balloon Festival

Day 1 – Lake Havasu City

To say this tour was “uplifting” might sound a little corny, but it certainly did exceed everyone’s expectations, including my own.  The festival and the balloons were pure magic.  We arrived in Lake Havasu City just in time to witness our first (of three) mass ascension of about 30 colorful hot air balloons.  They were definitely a sight to behold against the clear blue sky just the Hampton Inn (our hotel), which perfectly located next to the festival and near the banks of the Colorado River.  We came to appreciate our advantageous location as the tour progressed!

This evening we enjoyed an included welcome dinner at Shugrue’s Restaurant in their private dining room located right on the Colorado River.   The Prime Rib was delicious and it was a nice start to our trip.  En route to dinner, we had a local step-on guide from the Lake Havasu Visitor Center join us on our bus.  He told us about the history of Lake Havasu City and how the London Bridge was brought here by city founder Robert McCulloch.  McCulloch purchased 3,353 acres of property in 1958 on the east side of Lake Havasu along Pittsburgh Point, which he transformed into an island.  His goal was to build his own city, but he needed a gimmick to sell his real estate to people.  So, when he heard the historic London Bridge was for sale for $2.5 million, he purchased it and brought it to via ship through the Panama Canal to Long Beach where it was trucked in cataloged pieces to Lake Havasu City, reassembled and opened on October 5, 1971.  His gimmick was successful, and today Lake Havasu is a city of over 50,000 people and a very popular tourist city.  Tourists come here just to see the London Bridge as well as to enjoy recreation on the Colorado River.  After dinner, 27 of my guests opted to walk back with me over London Bridge and down the scenic Riverwalk to the hotel.  It was a beautiful evening and a delightful (and scenic) way to end our first day.

Day 2 – Havasu National Wildlife Refuge, Pirate’s Cove, Havasu Balloon Festival

We woke up to another mass ascension this morning, our second, and enjoyed seeing all the balloons in the sky as we headed down to the marina for our private narrated boat cruise to through the Lake Havasu National Wildlife refuge.  There were at least 30 balloons in the air again, and it made for some great photos on a perfect sunny morning.  Our cruise was fantastic and everyone really enjoyed learning about the history and wildlife while taking in the beautiful scenery.

Lake Havasu is actually a reservoir behind the Parker Dam on the Colorado River, built by the US Bureau of Reclamation between 1934 and 1938.  The lake’s primary purpose is to store water for pumping into two aqueducts in Arizona and California.  The dimensions of the lake are 18 miles long by 6 miles wide, with an average depth of 35 feet and a maximum depts of 90 feet. Lake Havasu City sits on the lake’s eastern shore.

The Havasu area is home to the Mohave Indians and the lake was named “Havasu” after the Mohave word for blue water.  The shoreline of Lake Havasu is in the transition zone between the higher Mojave Desert and the lower Sonoran Desert and California’s Colorado Desert ecosystems.  As a result, there are an interesting variety of flora and fauna around the lake, native to all 3 deserts.  Fishing tournaments are often held on the lake, where bass are the main catch.  Other fish species include carp, catfish, crappie and sunfish.

The Havasu National Wildlife Refuge is located at the upper end of the lake and is one of the last remaining natural stretches of the lower Colorado River.  The refuge provides habitat for animal species such as the Peregrine falcon, coyote, fox, desert bighorn sheep, roadrunner, bobcat, and cougar.  The river here flows through the spectacular 20-mile-long Topock Gorge, which is a very scenic area with red rocks and we even saw some petroglyphs.

Our one-way cruise ended at the delightful Pirate’s Cove in Needles, CA on the west side of the lake.  The food here was delicious, but the views were even better.  Afterwards, almost everyone enjoyed a stroll along the river path before boarding the bus.

The best was yet to come as we headed back to Lake Havasu City. The Havasu Balloon Festival is only in its 9th year, but you would never know it, as it was very well organized.  The event was quite large with a big area devoted to vendors, much like you would see at a flee or farmers market.  The official festival store had some nice souvenir merchandise for sale and they offered our DayTripper travelers 20% off.  We also received a gift bag with a complimentary calendar, festival pin and patch. It was a nice touch.  Our VIP admission included dinner in the gondola tent, where we enjoyed a very nice Italian buffet. The real star of the show though, was the Evening Glow event at 6:30pm.  It was one of the neatest things I have ever seen on a tour.  There were about 25 balloons scattered throughout the “balloon field” which were all lit up in unison during the course of an hour.  It was narrated by a D.J.  who got the balloon operators to do everything in perfect synchronization. It truly was amazing and such a perfect night for it, as there was no wind and it wasn’t cold.

Day 3 – General George Patton Museum

Many enjoyed the morning glow and mass ascension one last time, before we departed at 9:00am.  We made a group picture stop at the bridge and got a great shot with both the bridge and some balloons in the photo.  Then it was on to the General George S. Patton Memorial Museum near Indio and I would say that this attraction also exceeded everyone’s expectations.   Exhibits here include a large collection of tanks used in World War II and the Korean War, as well as memorabilia from Patton’s life and career, which focuses on his creation and service at the Desert Training Center.

Though Patton spent less than four months at the Desert Training Center, his establishment of the training grounds directly impacted more than one million troops which helped win the war for the allied troops.

They have added a brand-new wing here since the last time I visited, and it is very well done.  Our group enjoyed a guided docent-led tour, watched a riveting movie and strolled outside to see all the vintage war equipment in their tank yard. The museum gave free calendars to all vets on our bus, so that was a nice touch. There is also an impressive display on the development of the Colorado River Aqueduct as well.

After the Patton Museum, we enjoyed an included farewell lunch at the Palm Springs Hilton’s Terrace Restaurant. The food here never disappoints and the poolside views are always very relaxing. All too soon, it was time to head for home. This was a superb tour, and my travelers just loved it.  Dave Liese was our driver and he really did a fantastic job.  People commented on how caring and efficient he was, and of course Dave always keeps the bus sparkling clean.  Thank to everyone for joining Dave and me for a wonderful 3 days!


Mark Jacobson
DayTripper Tour Manager

Tour: 3-day Havasu Balloon Festival
Date: January 10-12, 2019


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