The history of any desert community begins with people and water, but one Arizona city’s relationship with the element is a little different from most others. “Economics, infrastructure, and lifestyle influence the water story in Lake Havasu City,” says Lake Havasu Museum of History Executive Director June Goff.  These factors “lend new topics to be considered in the context of the Water/Ways exhibit.” The Smithsonian Museum on Main Street traveling exhibit makes its last Arizona stop in Lake Havasu City February 8 through March 22.

Parker Dam. Image courtesy U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

Although the Chemehevui people thrived along the banks of the Colorado River for centuries, the area was sparsely populated when Parker Dam was built in 1938. The valley behind the dam filled with water, forming Lake Havasu, but for decades the region attracted few new residents. That changed in the 1960s, when California businessman Robert McCulloch and Disney designer C.V. Wood envisioned a resort community at the end of the single rutted road that led to the lake.

Now over 775,000 people annually are lured to Lake Havasu City, the sparkling body of water that embraces it, and the river that feeds them both. They boat, swim, fish, camp along the shore or in a state park, enjoy riparian areas, and visit tourist spots like London Bridge.

Shoreline fun at Lake Havasu. Image courtesy Lake Havasu Museum of History

As much as its immediate surroundings depend on it, Lake Havasu sends much of its water far away. The Central Arizona Project (CAP) carries the water 336 miles to Tucson, distributing it to cities, towns, farms and Native communities along the way. Goff hopes that while Water/Ways is in Lake Havasu City, it will move visitors toward “thoughtful consideration of environmental challenges, and a deeper appreciation for the beautiful blue and green oasis they call home.”

Water/Ways is at Lake Havasu Museum of History February 8–March 22. See the exhibit before it leaves Arizona for good, and don’t miss the local events that expand on it!

Title image: Robert McCulloch and C.V. Wood review plans for their new lakeside tourist destination. Courtesy Lake Havasu Museum of History.

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