Just to the south of the spring break setting of Lake Havasu, I find a place much more to my liking. Oh sure, there is still plenty of noise nearby, with a Motocross race track and a shooting range in the area. But if one is willing to wander a bit, it is possible to enjoy the gorgeous lake views without getting caught in the mayhem of the masses. Just two miles outside of town is “SARA,” a gem of a park.
SARA, or Special Activities Recreational Area, is an 1,100 acre area of land just a couple of miles south of town, right off Highway 95. Just across the highway, several RVs are boondocked. I wish I had chosen this option over the State Park, as the overflow lot is starting to overflow even more with the weekend crowds pouring in. But my water tank was empty and my waste tanks in the danger zone, so I had already prepaid my stay to avoid returning daily to the pay station.
The Crack in the Mountain
There are several hiking trails in the area, but I want to do the two most popular, the first of which is “The Crack in the Mountain,” more affectionately referred to as “SARA’s Crack.” This five mile loop hike starts off through a wash filled with noisy pea gravel, then quickly narrows down to a beautiful little slot canyon. It’s a relatively gradual slope down to reach the slot, where one quickly encounters just one little obstacle…“The Slide.” (Those who have been down it know to insert snickering here.)
The Slide is a ten foot drop down a vertical dry waterfall that one must negotiate, literally by the seat of one’s pants. A knotted rope has been placed in the pour-over to lower oneself down slowly, but in my opinion, it serves as a crutch of comfort more than it does an aid. I almost sacrificed a finger trying to save the seat of my favorite hiking shorts.
I follow a group of four octogenarians down through the slot. When we come to The Slide, I feel sure they will turn around. But nope. They each inch themselves hand over hand down the rope, cheering each other on like a field trip from the movie “Cocoon.” Inspiring, to say the least.
The Crack, the Disneyland-like feature of the hike is over all too soon as the high canyon walls gradually slope back down to meet the wash. The yellow-blazed trail continues on to the edge of Lake Havasu, past Balanced Rock, to the BLM campsite in Balance Rock Cove, which consists of one covered picnic table and a port-a-John, a perfect place for a snack break with a stunning view of the lake.
I return back by climbing up the short Green Trail, which soon intercepts the Blue Trail. A nice, scenic ridge line hike, the Blue Trail stays up high over the wash back through SARA Park to make a very enjoyable five mile loop.
The Picnic Table
The second most popular of SARA’s hikes is “The Picnic Table,” also known as the Lizard Peak Trail. Although this hike is shorter at only four miles, it is considerably steeper, as one must climb several hundred feet in elevation to reach the top of Table Mountain. At the summit is the namesake for the trail, a lone picnic table with 360 degree views of SARA Park, Lake Havasu City, and the lake itself.
The Picnic Table was purportedly hauled up the mountain by hand by the “Leaping Lizard Tribe.” This group of hikers / explorers was founded in 1982 by Tim O’Connor, who established not only the trail itself, but built the rock lizard beneath the mountain, namesake of the trail.
I always prefer a loop trail over an “out and back,” so I read online that it is possible to make this hike into a loop. I see a landmark on the map titled “The Ledges,” but there is no description to tell me that this section is going to require standing on loose rock to reach a 10 foot vertical scramble, reaching hand over hand, using caution not to look down over the steep drop-off behind me. Being alone on the trail, I find this stretch to be more than a bit daunting.
From “the ledges” on up toward the saddle, the trail levels off just long enough for my knees to stop knocking, then begins a steep, rocky climb toward the summit. This section would not be nearly so unnerving were it not for the loose rock that makes up the trail. With every other step, my boots begin to slide backwards. My hiking pole becomes more of a hazard than a help, as the trail is often too vertical to see more than a few steps above me. I have quite a dose of adrenalin coursing through my veins once I finally catch sight of the picnic table. As I sit down to rest my shaky legs, a local informs me that most people go up the switchbacks as an “out and back” hike to avoid the steep section of the loop trail. Oh, well, that’s just boring. 😉
The trail down the switchbacks is a pleasant way to descend the mountain, as it affords broad sweeping views of the lake as it narrows down to the Colorado River. I spot a few cacti in bloom on the way down. The weather is so perfect, I am not ready for the hike to end, so I extend my loop to connect further down with the Blue Trail, explore the spur leading to the Red Rock Grotto, then finish up along the Red Trail, running parallel to the gravely wash, all the way back to the trailhead.
What a great escape are SARA’s fun hiking trails!