If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Get Out of Needles
“Hot!” If you’ve visited Needles, California in a summer month, odds are “hot” is among the first adjectives coming to mind when describing this city. Situated along west bank of the Colorado River across from Arizona, Needles is a city notorious for summertime extreme high temperatures. It frequently records the nation’s highest temperature for a particular day. It is not unusual for Needles to record the world daily high temperature for the day ranking it as the hottest place on planet Earth.
On August 13, 2012, Needles entered the weather record book for rain accompanied by the hottest air temperature. On this date rain fell with an air temperature at 115 degrees. The rain – liquid water – transformed into steam after coming into contact with the ground and quickly evaporated.
The city is named after a group of nearby pinnacle mountain peaks rising 1,200 to 1,600 feet in elevation across the Colorado River in Mohave County, Arizona. Sitting at 495 feet above sea level, Needles had a population of 4,844 persons at the 2010 Census count.
Needles is part of San Bernardino County and is accessed via Interstate 40. At 20,105 square miles, San Bernardino County is the largest county by area in the U.S., exceeding the territory encompassed by New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island combined.
The county shares the Colorado River as its border with Nevada and Arizona to the east and extends westward to the counties of Los Angeles and Orange. From the county’s southwestern most point the Pacific Ocean is less than 20 miles away as the crow flies.
San Bernardino County is part of a region known as the “Inland Empire.” The southwest sliver of the county is geographically dissimilar from the rest of the county as it is split by the same transverse (east-west) mountain chain as divides Los Angeles County.
Of its over 2.1 million residents, only approximately 300,000 live north of the San Bernardino Mountains – mainly centered around Victorville – with the bulk of the population living in the southwestern corner nearer Riverside and Los Angeles Counties. Another roughly 100,000 people are dispersed across the remainder of the gigantic county.
What is known today as Needles, California was previously home to First Nation – “Indian” or “Native American” – people known as Mohave, or Mojave. Today, the Mohave are one of four distinct ethnic people belonging to the Colorado River Indian Tribes. The three First Nations sharing this designation are Chemehuevi, Hopi and Navajo.
The name [Mojave] is a compound of “aha,” (water), and “macave,” (along or beside) and refers to “people living beside the water” along the Colorado River. The Mojave lived primarily where California, Arizona and Nevada meet and are a combination of three subsets of indigenous peoples.
The Matha lyathum lived in Black Canyon south to the Mojave Valley, the Hutto-pah the central Mojave Valley, and the Kavi lyathum south of the Mojave Valley to the Needles Peaks. Aside from fish, the Colorado River provided water for crop irrigation and attracted game. The Mojave would travel as far west as the Pacific Ocean to trade with other First Nation communities.
As so many towns in the desolate southwestern United States, Needles became a settlement in 1883 due to location, location, location as it related to the railroad. First established as a location to house railroad workers, the town grew into the largest stop on the Colorado River north of Yuma, Arizona.
US Route 66 runs through Needles, a city with the moniker as the “Eastern Gateway into California.” Needles is featured in John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. This is where the Joad family crosses from Arizona into California expecting to find honest work for a fair day’s wage after eviction from their home and farm in Oklahoma during the Great Depression. Needles was also home to Charles Schulz, the creator of “Peanuts” comic strip, who lived there as a boy.
Established in 1926, U.S. Route 66 runs from Chicago at the shore of Lake Michigan to the Pacific Ocean at Santa Monica Pier. Spanning two-thirds of the continent and stretching 2,400 miles, the highway is referred to as the Will Rogers Highway, the Main Street of America, and the Mother Road.
The path was formed as a conglomeration of existing connecting roads merely being marked with the Route 66 highway sign. Automobile Club of America is the organization responsible for the placement of U.S. Route 66 signs beside the highway from Chicago to Los Angeles after the federal government gave the road its official designation in 1926.
Commemorating the highway’s 90th anniversary in 2016, the Auto Club of Southern California Archives produced a video on the entire route and the program includes information on attractions found along the way.
Things to Do
Relaxation, recreation, water sport and wilderness are the primary draws for Needles, California. This, and its nearby proximity to prominent attractions both natural and manmade.
Less than 18 miles to the south of Needles in Arizona is Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. Managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the 17,600 acre refuge is home to an eclectic array of land, air and water species that includes mountain lions, bobcats, bats, fox, snow geese and big horn sheep.
Prior to Hoover Dam being built, this natural area was a riparian forest thriving with an abundance of life. Natural flooding provided a perfect habitat for cottonwood and willow trees. Today, the land is managed to maintain habitat for endangered species and migratory avian wildlife relying upon the area as a stop-over spot or breeding ground. Considered a birding hotspot, the refuge boasts over 300 bird species.
Marshland with its high insect population is the perfect dinner table setting for a feasting frenzy by many birds. The Western and Clark’s grebes are seen synchronized dancing in the wetland. Quail, roadrunner and the peregrine falcon are commonplace at the refuge.
Less than an hour south from Needles and also in Arizona beside Lake Havasu is the eponymously named Lake Havasu City. Running along the Colorado River’s eastern shoreline in Arizona is Lake Havasu State Park. Lake Havasu City is home to London Bridge. Originally constructed in 1831 to replace a 600 year old bridge spanning the River Thames, the bridge began sinking one inch a year. In 1967, the City of London placed the bridge for sale and it was purchased the following year by Lake Havasu City founder Robert McCulloch for nearly $2.5 million.
With each block numbered, the bridge was disassembled and shipped to Lake Havasu transiting the Panama Canal en-route and was reconstructed, dedicated and opened to the public by October 1971. Lamps lining the bridge are made from melted down cannons of Napoleon Bonaparte’s army. An hour-and-half guided walking tour is available.
In California and roughly 30 miles north of Needles is the 47,000 acre Dead Mountains Wilderness Area. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the area is home to Mt. Manchester at 3,598 feet above sea level. Creosote bush desert scrub and desert wash scrub are the dominant features and provide home for bighorn sheep, black-tailed jackrabbits, red-tailed hawks, golden eagles, rattlesnakes, and several species of lizards. The area provides critical habitat for the threatened desert tortoise. Access is available from all sides of the park via BLM route and OHV riding is permitted.
One hundred miles to the north, and just east of Las Vegas, is Lake Mead, Nevada. Managed by the National Park Service, it is billed as “America's Most Diverse National Recreation Area.” The park is 1.5 million acres of nine wilderness areas made of mountains, canyons, valleys and two lakes – Lake Mead and Lake Mohave – and is home to Hoover Dam. When measured by water capacity, Lake Mead is the nation’s largest reservoir.
The north shore of the lake is Nevada while the southern shore is Arizona. Lake Mead is the first stop for the Colorado River as it exits the Grand Canyon upstream. The Lake has been adversely impacted by the severe drought gripping the southwest and as of this writing – July 31, 2017 – is nearly 150 feet below its full pool height of 1,229 feet deep.
Two hundred and thirty miles from Needles to the east-northeast is Grand Canyon. A national, natural monument of immense pride, the park is a canyon measuring 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide and one mile deep.
Nearby Cities & Towns
Distance from Needles
Laughlin, Nevada – 39 Miles North
Las Vegas, Nevada – 111 Miles North
Lake Havasu City, Arizona – 43 Miles South
Yuma, Arizona – 184 Miles South
Kingman, Arizona – 57 Miles East
Flagstaff, Arizona – 209 Miles East
Barstow, California – 144 Miles West
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