Engines and choppers and gunfire: a Parker Thanksgiving

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A parade of big motor-bearing machines rumble along one behind another on a dirt road at sunset, a cloud of dust kicked up by giant tires with deep treads. On one side, a row of people are lined up gleefully shooting machine guns and pistols. On the other, a silver helicopter suddenly lunges over a ridge and down over the trail, swirling the dust below and disappearing over a close horizon. Dirt bikes fly through washes nearby. Everybody’s in a good mood. It’s Thanksgiving weekend and they’re coming back from an afternoon at the Desert Bar.

Nowhere does Thanksgiving like Parker, Arizona, the desert resort town on the Colorado River known for desert racing, watersports and parties. It’s kind of the promise of American freedom in real life.

The famous Desert Bar (aka the Nellie E. Saloon), 5 miles off Arizona State Route 95, is packed this weekend. Powered entirely by a giant solar system, the bar is totally off the grid, situated on an old mining claim that keeps the land out of the hands of the U.S. Government.

A band plays from an outdoor stage, drawing a hundred dancing people to the floor in front, as over a thousand others sit around at tables on multiple levels connected by concrete steps and slopes. Three bars serve up a simple drinks menu and two kitchens serve food. People arrive on dirt bikes and on quads, in dune buggies, side-by-sides, trucks and Jeeps. You’ll even see Priuses and minivans, driven by those who don’t mind putting their cars through a rough ride. License plates are 90 percent Arizona and California this weekend, as you would expect, but by January the crowd will get a little older as snowbirds arrive from all over the nation.

This weekend, the crowd is very diverse: the old and the young, the road-dirty and the dolled-up. The young family with kids in tow. The 60-year old business owner and Jeep enthusiast. The group of 20-something girls in tank tops and jean shorts. Locals. The Inland Empire crowd. The Phoenix and Vegas contingent. The O.C. and L.A. set. You can tell who arrived on an open-topped desert vehicle of some kind: they’re pretty dusty. They all know this place really, really well.

Over by the footbridge, Jimmy Hook proposes to his girlfriend of 6 years Tori Poole. They’ve driven over today from Blythe, CA for the afternoon, and the crowd erupts in cheers when he asks her to marry him (she says yes).

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“…blue skies and the warmth of sun, the sound of engines and choppers and gunfire, crackling fires under bright stars…

Thanksgiving weekend is like this on the Parker Strip. Full of action. A few miles away, BlueWater Resort & Casino hosts a major Southern California boat racing event, bringing a crowd for this spectacle on the beautiful crystal-clear waters of the Colorado River. What’s not to like?

The following night, people will gather river-side in hoodies and flip-flops to watch the annual Lighted Boat Parade, a fitting spin on the beginning of the last month of the year and the Christmas season, before heading back to work.

I’m not sure people would understand all of this anywhere else – places where November is cold and gray, places where the default choice is to huddle indoors and eat leftovers. But if you think your turkey dinner might best be accompanied by wide open spaces, blue skies, the warmth of sun, the sound of engines and choppers and gunfire and live music, frosty drinks, crackling fires under bright stars, open windows and a light desert breeze…

…then you don’t know what you’re missing.

John Wright

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Listen to a great podcast from the Parker area by clicking HERE!

9 comments

  1. You sure paint a beautiful picture

  2. amazing!!!!! Awesome – love this site!

  3. LOVE PARKER No where else, can you party like you do in Parker,AZ!!!

  4. Was a Beautiful site to see from Hwy 95 coming into Lake Havasu

  5. I Love Parker Dam-nothing like the stark outline of the jagged hills and the fading daylight, only to look at the small lights coming from the power plant.

  6. Gordon-Linda Brimer Foust

    I am missing Thanksgiving in Parker, It was a wild time, with the campground full of people and boats for the big race, the big dinner at the club house, the nice weather. Just missing my Arizona, my second home.

  7. Missing river time but soon

  8. Yes! RiverRats Paridise! I SOOO miss my ParkerAZ Daze!

  9. Stephanie and Terry Sanders

    We got married at the church there at the desert bar on thanksgiving weekend 18 years ago, we are there every year for our anniversary. Ken has done a great job of adding things to the place, and keeping it rustic!! We thought no one would come on our wedding day but we ended up with about 100 people. Judge Drum married us and the news people were there, I guess we were the first to get married after the church got ordained. Thanks for your article it tells the story in true form.

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