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SW Aviator Feb/Mar 2001
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A Hot Deal in Laughlin
Story by SW Aviator Staff
Photos courtesy of the Laughlin Chamber of Commerce

Laughlin is hot! Over five million visitors each year come to Laughlin, Nevada to indulge in a hot time. There are plenty of indulgences in and around Laughlin: Eleven resort/casinos offer exciting gaming, shows, and a variety of dining; there is an abundance of water recreation on the Colorado River and nearby Lake Mohave; and there are fascinating historic towns nearby. Add near perfect year-round weather (albeit hot in summer), astonishingly reasonable prices, and a top-notch airport at its doorstep, and you have the makings of a sizzling fly-in destination.

By far, one of the best things about Laughlin are the hotel prices. All of Laughlin’s resort/casinos offer great rates, often as low as $18 per room. We stayed at the Flamingo, while getting our seaplane rating at Sheble’s across the river. The Flamingo’s mid-week room prices started at $22 a night. We indulged ourselves by going to the third upgrade to get a high room on the river side (airport view), and still only paid $37 a night for the room. Call 800-662-5825 or visit to get your own hot deal.

As with most of Laughlin’s resorts, the twin towered 18-story Flamingo is right on the banks of the Colorado River. This 1900-room resort offers all the amenities you would expect, including a 60,000 square foot casino for hot gaming action, four restaurants, a swimming pool, and top-name entertainment. A few of the stars appearing this August and September at the Flamingo include Olivia Newton-John in the Ballroom, Kenny Rogers in the outdoor amphitheater, and the masterful standup-ventriloquist Dan Horn at the famous Comedy Stop in the Flamingo Showroom. Call 800-435-8469 for tickets.

At the other end of town from the Flamingo, tucked away in a canyon on the banks of the Colorado River, is Harrah’s Resort. This Spanish style hotel is a great choice if you want to cool off by playing in and on the waters of the Colorado River (after heating up in one of Harrah’s two "south-of-the-border" casinos – one of which is non-smoking). Harrah’s is the only casino in Laughlin with a private soft sand beach. Their Del Rio Beach Club offers lounge chairs with umbrellas, beach volleyball, and wave runner and boat rentals. When it’s time for some indoor heat, Harrah’s Las Vegas style show "Bewitched," features an all-female cast, and promises an unforgettable finale. Call the Harrah's Box Office at 800-221-1306, ext. 6210 for tickets and information, or visit The buffet at Harrah’s is also a scorching deal, and is consistently rated as one the best in Laughlin, making this a worthwhile detour even if you are not staying at the hotel. We found Harrah’s a bit too far to walk from the other casinos in town, but it is an easy, fun water taxi ride away for an out-of-shape pilot intent on bankrupting the buffet.

Closer to the center of town is the Ramada Express Hotel and Casino. This is the only one of Laughlin’s resorts not directly on the river, though it is only a short walk through the parking lot and across Casino Drive to the action on the river. This 1500-room hotel features a railroad theme, including Laughlin’s only working railroad, "The Gambling Train of Laughlin." This popular free train has carried more than two million riders on the mile-long circuit around the landscaped property. The Ramada Express is also a big hit with military veterans and their families. The American Heroes Museum of Memories is a wonderful collection of W.W.II memorabilia. The newest addition to the museum is a patriotic salute called On the Wings of Eagles, A Tribute to American Veterans. This 15-minute multi-media show is a must-see in Laughlin. Created exclusively for the Ramada Express by the people who designed Disneyland’s Electric Light Parade, "Wings" is shown on four theater-sized screens that surround you with scenes of combat and victory from W.W.II through Desert Storm, as well as heart-warming moments of the American spirit on the home front. The show runs daily on the hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and both the museum and the show are free. Call 800-243-6846 or visit for more information.

A popular hotel for visiting pilots getting their seaplane rating at Sheble’s is the Riverside Hotel and Casino, right across the river from the airport and next to the Flamingo. The Riverside is the casino that started it all back in 1966, when Don Laughlin thought this remote, empty stretch of desert along the Colorado River would make an ideal alternative to Las Vegas. He was right. Today the Riverside Resort has grown to over 1400 rooms, and has five restaurants, a bowling center, and even a movie theater. Call 800-227-3849 or visit for more information.

Whichever resort you choose, consider joining their Players Club as a quick way to discounted rooms and meals. Also be on the lookout for the frequent and generous package deals the hotels offer through their web sites, or advertise in your Sunday newspaper’s travel section. An excellent web site to gather more information on the various Laughlin resort/casinos is Las Vegas Online (, which includes reviews of Laughlin hotels.

In addition to being the starting point for Sheble’s seaplane training, the dock at the Riverside Resort is home to the USS Riverside. The USS Riverside is a cruise boat designed to go under the nearby Laughlin Bridge for a unique look at Davis Dam, along with Laughlin’s waterfront casinos. Tickets are $10, and can be purchased at the dock (800-227-3849 ext. 5770).

If a longer river trip is more to your liking, try Jet Boat Tours (888-505-3545). This excursion covers the 58 miles between Laughlin and Lake Havasu City in record time, using 900 hp. jet boats that cruise at speeds over 40 mph. On the way the 40-foot boat slows occasionally to allow you to enjoy the rugged desert beauty along the Colorado, including the breathtaking Topock Gorge. The trip runs daily March through November. Prices round trip are $52 for adults, $32 for children 3-12, and $47 for seniors. If you would rather experience the river on your own, most Laughlin hotels can help you arrange rentals of wave runners, kayaks, jet skis, or even a fishing boat.

Getting around Laughlin is easy, since most of the hotels are within close proximity to each other. You can walk safely from one end of Casino Drive to the other within an hour. The best place to go for a stroll is the Colorado River Walk, a pleasant public walkway along the riverfront that curls in and out of many of the hotel properties. Another great way to get around are the numerous river taxis. These water taxis shuttle Laughlin visitors from resort to resort along the Colorado River, and are one of the most popular attractions of the region.

Though getting around town on foot is easy, it might be worthwhile to rent a car in order to explore Laughlin’s interesting surroundings. A popular day trip is the scenic drive to the Old West mining ghost town of Oatman. Located just 25 miles southeast of Laughlin/Bullhead City, and tucked into the rough ramparts of the Black Mountains, this small, picturesque town with a present day population of approximately 125 draws an estimated 500,000 tourists each year.

Gold was discovered here just after the turn of the last century. Named for a pioneering family killed by Apache Indians, Oatman’s peak population was over 10,000 in the days when 50 mines operated in the district. The boomtown prospered, and in 1917 had seven hotels, 20 saloons, and even a stock exchange. The mines produced nearly two million ounces of gold before declining in the 1930s. The population dwindled, but the town was kept alive as a traveler’s stop on America’s Main Street – Route 66. This was the last cool stop for westbound travelers before crossing the Colorado River into California’s broiling Mohave Desert. Then in 1952 Route 66 was rerouted to the south, further crippling the town. Fire has destroyed many of the old buildings of Oatman, but several structures and interesting mines have survived.

Today, Oatman is a quaint tourist attraction known for its arts, crafts, and antique shops, and for the burros that roam the streets. You will undoubtedly meet the town’s semi-wild burros, who are descendants of the gold miners’ pack animals. The burros wander in from the desert every morning to be pampered, photographed, and fed by tourists. At sundown, they leave.

Oatman’s colorful streets have been a popular setting for many movies and TV Westerns, and are now the site of weekend cowboy gunfights and showdowns staged for the tourists. The rickety Oatman Hotel on Main Street is the oldest two-story adobe building in Mohave County. Originally built in 1902, it has survived three major fires. However, the hotel has remained the same since 1920, so don’t expect modern conveniences like a bathroom in the rooms – it is located down the hall. The hotel has displays of old movie posters, theater costumes, and gold miners’ memorabilia scattered throughout its upstairs rooms. Room 15 has the distinction of being the honeymoon room where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent the night after their wedding ceremony in Kingman on March 29, 1939. For a donation of $35, you may stay at the hotel ($55 to spend the night in the Gable/Lombard room). Call 928-768-4408 for more information.

To experience the history of an underground gold mine try Gold Road Mine Tours, located 2 1/2 miles east of Oatman. Here you can take a one-hour tour guided by former miners. This mine had been in production off and on for nearly 100 years, until the operation closed in 1998 when gold fell below $300 an ounce. Tours are scheduled every 30 minutes between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily (928 768 1600).

Another worthwhile attraction located at the Gold Road Mine is Bartel’s Stage Lines. Eric Bartels, owner and driver, has been in the stagecoach business for 8 years and provides a one-hour narrated tour on the old Beale Trail through Gold Road. Back in the early 1860s, stagecoaches were the fastest way to travel, and to deliver mail and passengers across country. Bartels uses an authentic replica of an 1880 four-horse "mud coach" style stagecoach, which is more suitable for this rough desert terrain. Cost is $25 per person, children are half price, and the tours run from October through mid-April (the operation moves to the beautiful Mancos Valley in Colorado from May through September). For reservations or information, call 928-768-1600.

A day spent exploring the silent mines, old buildings, and fading remnants of dreams of riches gone bust in the once booming town of Oatman provides a poignant counterpoint to the modern day casino-fueled boomtown of Laughlin. Call the Oatman Chamber of Commerce at 928-768-6222 for further information, or check their web site at

In addition to offering low prices, Laughlin is ensuring the survival of its booming tourist economy by hosting numerous special events and festivals each year, guaranteeing the resort hotels – and their casinos – stay filled. Among the events coming soon are a classic car show in early September, the Laughlin River Flight hot air balloon rally in late October, and the SCORE Laughlin Desert Challenge off-road race in January. Contact the Laughlin Chamber of Commerce (800 227-5245 or for more information.
With a year-round schedule of special events, glittering casinos, and fun on the Colorado, Laughlin is indeed a hot destination. Whether you are searching for gold at the historic boomtown of Oatman, on the blackjack tables of Laughlin, or in the warm glow of a sunset over the river, you will hit the jackpot with a flight to Laughlin.

The Laughlin/Bullhead International airport (IFP) is located in Bullhead City, Arizona, just across the Colorado River from Laughlin’s resort/casinos. The airport has grown significantly over the last few years, in support of Laughlin’s explosive growth. The airport now sports a 7520 foot runway (16/34), a new control tower, and a new commercial passenger facility on the east side of the field. There is also a noticeable increase in private and commercial jet traffic, thanks to these airport improvements. The old runway (17/35) is now an aircraft parking area, don’t try to land there!

The airport is surrounded by mountains and rising terrain in most every direction, and the gradual slope of the terrain down to the river can lead to some insidious visual illusions. The smokestacks of the Mohave Generating Station, located approximately two miles west of the airport, are an excellent landmark and wind indicator, but avoid flying over the power plant due to the possible heat/thermal turbulence it creates. The airport uses west traffic (right traffic to rwy 16), so the downwind leg will give your passengers a perfect view of Laughlin and the Colorado River below.

GA facilities are still on the west side of the field, down the hill and around the corner on taxiway H, which exits the runway midfield. Give way to aircraft taxiing uphill eastbound from the ramp, it’s pretty steep. Fuel, parking, and tiedown are available from the Mohave County Airport Authority (928-754-3922, or 122.85). All west side facilities will soon be demolished to make way for commercial development, once the new general aviation facilities and ramp is completed on the east side of the field.

Avis, Hertz, and Enterprise are represented in the Airline terminal. Most hotels, including Harrah’s, the Riverside Resort, Ramada Express, and the Flamingo, offer airport pickup.

Bullhead City often boasts the hottest summertime temperatures in the nation, with midday readings over 120º F commonplace. This kind of withering heat is tough on aircraft, as well as the pilot and passengers. Drink lots of water, be conscious of degraded aircraft performance, and try to avoid arriving and departing during the hottest part of the day.

For more information about flying to Laughlin, visit (also accessible via This site contains useful airport information, additional photos, and an interesting narrative of a flight to Laughlin.

Photo courtesy of Bob and Esmeralda Grove
Southwest Aviator Magazine staff members Mark Swint, Irene Burnett, and Gerrit Paulsen combined their individual experiences over several visits to the Laughlin area to create this article.
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The material in this publication is for advisory information only and should not be relied upon for navigation, maintenance or flight techniques. SW Regional Publications and the staff neither assume any responsibility for the accuracy of this publication's content nor any liability arising fom it
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