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Willow Beach, Arizona

The Journey

All of our road trips start the same: the refrigerator is packed with our meals for at least two days time, and I commence securing any loose items in the trailer with stabilizing bars and double checking the locks while Jamie showers, dresses, and pulls together his breakfast. I’ve been up for a while as I’m an early riser, so our dogs, Benny and Vito, have been walked, and lunch has been made and stowed in the cooler that lives behind the backseat where it’s easy to grab. It has been at least an hour since we enjoyed our coffee, so the dishes are washed and put up, and it’s time to prepare for departure.

Photo: Benny (left) and Vito (right) in the back seat of our pickup truck.

At the trailer's tail is a camera for changing lanes, backing up, and general awareness of other objects. It is connected through a series of cables to the truck’s electronics and is viewed through a screen that plugs into the middle console near the dashboard. Before every departure, Jamie gets in the driver’s seat and turns on the truck, and I load Benny and Vito into the backseat with their blankets, water, and various distractions, then head to the tail to check the lights. Left blinker? Thumbs up. Right blinker? Thumbs up. Brake lights? Thumbs up. Jamie catches my hand signals in the camera, and we are ready for take off without a word spoken.

It’s about a ninety-minute drive southeast from Summerlin to Willow Beach, Arizona. Forty of which it takes Vito to settle in a seat (usually mine) and give us peace for the remainder of the journey. Sometimes he joins Benny in the backseat. It must be something about the transition, but his fussing settles just as the terrain changes ever so dramatically from the outskirts of Boulder City to the seemingly endless flat lands that occur before approaching the cliffs surrounding Lake Havasu and the Hoover Dam.

From there, the view truly changes, particularly in early spring when the world still carries the essence of hydration that reflects in the spray of green fauna and wildflowers adorning the hills. In the southwest, this glimmer of life happens between January and the end of April, before the heat sets in, and we all live in air-conditioned units till mid-September. Passing through this region has advantages: cell phones magically turn into cameras, and inclinations to be zapped by screen-laden boredom cease. Much of the terrain that was flat farms of solar panels transition into rolling hills with trailheads and turn-offs, most of which are not designed for a truck with a travel trailer.

The sign appears as we near the crest of our next hill just over the border from Nevada. Thankfully, Mother Nature and the Arizona Department of Transportation shook hands and made the turn-off easy. Making a relatively comprehensive “U," we swiftly reach the ranger gate to enter. Willow Beach is a National Park with entry fees and is subject to annual passes for the experienced traveler. I highly recommend obtaining the "America the Beautiful" pass – it speeds up the process and lessens expenses.

From here on out, the roads are maintained by the Park Service. There are often potholes and a missing shoulder, and when it rains, the gravel and loosened sediment wash into the road. This is not uncommon when visiting parks and rugged ground and is to be expected. Since we are towing and I do not care to drink my second cup of coffee via sinus flush, we cautiously approach the path. This also provides ample time to appreciate the wildflowers that grow in abundance on either side of the road. As a pollen-magnet, I keep my arsenal ready: sunglasses, hat, hair tied back, eyedrops, nasal antihistamine, and an inhaler. I find I need all of them. Pollen is everywhere and has no place to go but directly into my nose and eyes; at this point, anything I intend to do is futile without a bevy of fixes. Nevertheless, we pursue.

To our left is Willow Beach, with plenty of avenues to enter the beachfront for kayaking, picnics, and the like. Beyond that is the convenience store and waterside restaurant we have yet to test. Across from the store (to the right, upon entering the park) is ample parking for day-trippers or pausing to collect the overnight parking pass and map. An easy transaction since we book ahead, our business is adjourned, and we head back to the truck to create another wide "U" and ascend the hill toward the campsite.

Jamie and I frequent this location a few times a year due to convenience to Las Vegas, ease of load in/load out, and access to full hookups. Most of the sites for RVs are pull-throughs, and the ground is leveled. Perfect for an A-class or an Airstream, and since we're only staying a couple of days, there's no need to unhitch. On this trip, we were joined by a regular camping buddy of ours, Dennis, who frequents tent-camping and fishing in his time off and has proven time and again that in addition to being an overall enjoyable comrade, he's well-versed and prepared for practically any discovery on the road. So, with that, the routine ensues. Airstream parked, stairs down, awnings out, roll out the AstroTurf, and set up the Smokey Joe – we are home for the night, with plenty of hours ahead to explore.

Regardless of the site we choose, when I pivot my feet to face Lake Havasu, I can see a well-worn path that bifurcates slightly. One path heads to higher ground, where I can wander with the dogs to survey the land and the parking lot below. The other winds along the side of the mound and provide a scenic alternative to taking the road down to the beach. The footing is mostly sure, but for those who struggle with uneven ground or have a particularly exuberant four-legged, I tend to bring a walking stick or, at the very least, a sturdy harness to prevent said pooch from dragging me down the trail as each petal and crag is sniffed. Heading downhill, there is plenty of room to lean (read: fall) left; however, the soil is looser to the right and erodes periodically due to rain and feet. There's a bit of a drop, not much taller than an average grown adult, that is climbable but avoidable without much effort. At the end, the path meets the road to the parking lot and another more minor road leads up to the right to a picnic area with a pergola. We bypass this and continue down to the beachfront with our dogs for a bit of lackluster fishing and people-watching.

Fishing Lessons Had we not carried our annual fishing licenses or dutifully purchased one online in advance, permits and bait are available in the convenience store for purchase. When facing the store, the fishing pier is available to the right, just beyond the gas pump and dumping station/fish cleaning hut and before the fish hatchery.

Fish hatchery? Why yes, there is indeed a fish hatchery. Allegedly, they do a fish release on Fridays and the occasional Thursday at an undisclosed time. Whatever time that is, we have religiously missed it by a long shot, to the point where we can only laugh about it, pack up the poles and bait and walk back up the trail to the campsite. On our most recent trek, we were out in our fishing spot for quite a while when the sun won, and I finally gave up. My fishing line was in the water, and I hadn't checked it since the action was slow. Or so I thought. Pulling the fishing line up, I let out a sigh. It appears that there were indeed some nibblers, and my mostly-chewed-nothing-left-but-the-fish-head was remaining on the hook. While my fondness for lackadaisical fishing was strong, my full-time career was over, and it was time to pack up. Hopefully, the menfolk would have had better luck by the time they returned to camp. They showed up about an hour later, unsuccessful, with a bucket full of frozen bait.

I set about prepping lunch while they drove our friend's truck down to donate the remainder of the bait to the other hopeful fishermen. As luck would have it, the hatchery released the fish, so the fishermen had not only caught but reached their catch limit for the day… good thing we were having steak for dinner. Returning fishless but with a good tale, we laughed it off. Willow Beach: 4; Us: 0.

A Quiet Departure

Friday began as all mornings do, with black coffee and a small breakfast. Benny and Vito have been walked, and we prepare for departure: tanks are dumped and flushed, our Airstream is secured, and the dogs are loaded into the truck to bump along the road out of the park. We're on the road back to Las Vegas to prepare for a more extended trip the following week, but we'll be back.

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