The sun had long set behind the Newberry Mountains that claimed half of the sky on the northwest side of Laughlin, a small town located in the southern tip of Nevada. A bright and big moon had made its presence known as it shily rose from behind the Black Mountains in Bullhead City, Arizona, sparkling over the waters of the Colorado River that separates the two cities, and the two states.
I was walking back to the Laughlin River Lodge Hotel and Casino, where I had been staying, after attending Toby Keith’s concert at the Laughlin Event Center, a familiar destination to many country and rock music superstars.
The temperature had cooled down to an enjoyable low-60 degrees Fahrenheit. As I crossed paths with many friendly people with warm smiles — couples holding hands, groups of friends laughing and children asking if they could stay up late the next night as well — I couldn’t help but marvel at the glittery lights of the many casinos and resorts that lined up Casino Drive.
Where to stay
Laughlin offers no shortage of unique lodging options to pique any interest. The Laughlin River Lodge offers a focus on family fun with options like a camping-themed room, while Harrah’s has pools dedicated exclusively to families or for adults only. The Golden Nugget, with the lowest number of rooms at just 300, offers a more intimate and welcoming feeling but with all the comfort and luxury of bigger resorts.
Then there’s the Don Laughlin’s Riverside Resort Hotel and Casino — home to Don Laughlin himself, the namesake of the city. At the age of 88, he still lives in the penthouse of the resort and enjoys showing off his ballroom dancing skills, which are impressive according to the locals who describe him as charming yet reserved. And it’s not hard to spot him walking around the town he purchased in 1964, after sensing its untapped potential.
Where to eat
With all these resorts and casinos, making a decision on where to eat can be daunting. Although many places offer the famous Las Vegas-style buffets — some with great military discounts — it is worth looking at more specific culinary options, like the creative Mexican food of Guy Fieri’s El Burro Borracho (the Drunken Donkey) at Harrah’s, or the Forrest Gump-inspired Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. at the Golden Nugget.
What to do
Whether you wish to take it easy and relax by the beach, wet your feet in the crystal-clear waters of the Colorado River or play golf at the elegant Laughlin Ranch, this town has it all.
Take a break from hitting the slot machines and hop on a water taxi that takes you from casino to casino, or get on a jet boat tour on the Colorado River. Onlookers will pass by Fort Mohave, Arizona and Needles, California.
Explore the desert by riding an UTV with the OUI Experience: The owners Jake and Ani, whose French Canadian heritage is apparent in the name of the business — oui means “yes,” will make you feel safe and comfortable while giving you the experience of a lifetime — or as they say, “We are going to make you want to scream our name, Ouuuiiii!”
Rent a car and drive down the world-famous Route 66 to Oatman, a small Western village that is home to a little over 100 people, where burros are the main attraction and always camera ready. While on the road, stop by Keepers of the Wild located at mile marker 87. This nonprofit animal sanctuary houses over 150 exotic and indigenous wild animals who have been rescued from harm or placed into their custody by the owner of animal welfare organizations.
A short ride away from Keepers of the Wild is Grand Canyon Caverns, the largest dry caverns in the country. An expert guide with a sense of humor offers daily tours, which are located 300 feet below the surface. Visitors can opt to eat and sleep in the caverns, but beware: the only TV options are movies about earthquakes and other natural disasters.
If you want to absorb the Native American heritage of the state, hike the Grapevine Canyon only a few minutes away from Laughlin. Part of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, it contains rocks with petroglyphs that date back to A.D. 1100. Spirit Mountain, part of the canyon and highest peak in the Newberry Mountains, is sacred land to the Yuman-speaking tribes who believe it to be their spiritual birthplace.
As I got closer to my hotel, I turned around and took one last glance at this town that checked all of the items on my travel bucket list. The locals made me feel like part of the family Don Laughlin raised since 1964. Whether you’re seeking a romantic getting with your service member or want quality time as a military family, Laughlin is unequivocally Nevada’s best kept secret.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Brunella Costagliola’s visit to Laughlin, Nevada was part of a Military Salute Trip provided by the Laughlin Tourism Board.Read comments