Apart from the casinos, Laughlin's main attraction is the River. On a recent visit in late August, afternoon temperature 112°, the river was a busy playground. There were swimmers, sunbathers and babies playing patty-cake at the Harrah's beach, little water-skeeters zipping up and down the river, water taxis buzzing from one hotel to another, water-skiers bouncing behind sleek boats, sending up rooster-tails, the Little Belle and the USS Riverside gliding grandly past on sight-seeing cruises with fishermen on the shore.
In 1966 an enterprising fellow named Don Laughlin paid $250,000 for a boarded up motel across the Colorado River from Bullhead City, Arizona. In 1982 his gambling operations grossed more than $20 million. But that was deep in the ancient past as time as measured in Laughlin. A succession of residential projects began with Laughlin's first house in 1985, and now Laughlin has more than 7,500 residents of its own.
For a fascinating half-hour driving tour, take the main boulevard downriver from the casinos past the Big Bend State Recreation Area and the long, skinny Emerald River Golf Course. Looming like a ghost above the sparkling water like a haunting monument to greed and bad judgment: the skeleton of the 4,000-room Emerald River Casino Hotel, financed with junk bonds and abandoned before completion. Turn right at the Needles Highway to tour the residential part of town and return to the casinos.
The countryside around Laughlin is inviting to the backroad explorer; temperatures are most comfortable from late fall through early spring, and in March and April the wildflowers make a brilliant display.
But even if you're not an outdoorsman, even if you are blase about gambling and entertainment, visit Laughlin just because it is such an incredible phenomenon, a brilliant boomtown in the great Nevada tradition. Wretched excess? Of course; it's a specialty here. But would you rather have a rundown motel and a bait shack with a beer cooler?
Big Bend, Christmas Tree Pass, River Walk