Located 90 miles south of Vegas in the Colorado River Valley where Nevada meets Arizona and nearby California, Laughlin (www.visitlaughlin.com) is one of four LVCVA-promoted satellites. While attracting a mix of older visitors, families, Colorado River enthusiasts, and the RV set, I had to satisfy my curiosity with this “alternate” Vegas. The drive alone was a trip. Nevada is famed for its extraterrestrial highways and Routes 95 and 163 are no exception. Heading there in an afternoon heat mirage and returning under a galactic night sky was right out of Star Wars.
Surveying the same area by plane in 1964, Minnesota-born slots and nightclub entrepreneur Don Laughlin had his own starry visions. Deciding on a mostly barren sliver of land bordering the Colorado River, his development efforts began by transforming a shuttered motel. In 1966, his namesake (courtesy of a local postal inspector) destination was born.
Now a sprightly 89, Laughlin keeps a penthouse suite and walks the casino floor nightly at his much-expanded Riverside Resort Hotel & Casino (www.riversideresort.com). With 1,352 rooms in two towers, including the river-facing South Tower with its adults-only pool, the resort’s time capsules include the fine-dining Gourmet Room and Don’s Celebrity Theater, where I saw a rousing show from legendary songwriter and performer Tony Orlando.
Familiar flags along Casino Drive include Harrah’s, Tropicana, and The New Pioneer, featuring “River Rick,” cousin of Fremont Street’s Vegas Vic neon cowboy.
“Find your peaceful center” at artist Wes Dudek’s nine circular stone Laughlin Labyrinths in the hills overlooking Casino Drive. Some eight centuries earlier, skilled Patayan and Yuman hands created the stylish petroglyphs of Grapevine Canyon on nearby Spirit Mountain. Accessed from Christmas Tree Pass, a graded dirt road off Route 163, the trail to these sacred designs includes distant views of Arizona’s Sleeping Princess Mountain.
Laughlin Boat Tours (www.laughlinboattours.com) operates Colorado River jet boat rides to Lake Havasu, Arizona. Passing through spectacular Topock Gorge, the 116-mile roundtrip experience, with a lunch stop by London Bridge, famously exported from England in 1971, was exhilarating.
Ancient petroglyphs are also found in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (www.redrockcanyonlv.org) just west of Vegas. Dinosaurs once roamed this ancient ocean basin, where other stops along 13-mile Scenic Drive include climbable Aztec sandstone cliffs and multiple trails leading into the park’s labyrinthine canyons. Arrive early, it’s popular.