The area is rich in its Old West heritage. Indian petroglyphs speak of a time before riverboats navigated the treacherous waters of the Colorado River through the sharp bends at Topock Gorge. On February 14, 1858, while navigating the Colorado, explorer Joseph Christmas Ives encountered Mojave Indian Chief Cairook in Topock Gorge. Ives was understandably apprehensive about the Mohave’s intentions, and his diary records in detail his first impressions of Cairook and his wife.
Today, thanks to modern jet boats, personal watercraft and reminiscent of Cairook’s day–the canoe, there are many ways for visitors to discover the wild beauty of Topock Gorge view the petroglyphs, and perhaps catch a glimpse of old Cairook, whose likeness, mysteriously carved by Mother Nature in volcanic rock, now guards the entrance to the Topock Gorge.
The Havasu National Wildlife Refuge runs along the California-Arizona border covering over 44,000 acres along the Colorado River – a habitat set aside in 1941 after the construction of Parker Dam created Lake Havasu and changed the wildlife environment drastically. The Refuge begins south of Needles, and runs almost to Lake Havasu, the bulk of it along the Arizona side. Another, smaller, section encompasses a portion of the Bill Williams River at the southeast end of Lake Havasu. The Refuge includes Topock Marsh and Topock Gorge.
Topock Marsh is actually a series of small lakes that are winter favorites for thousands of migrating birds who stop to rest and feed (some stay until spring; some never leave) – consequently it is very popular in the winter months when birders come to visit varieties of geese, herons, egrets and other water birds. Popular launch and takeout points are Catfish Paradise, Five-Mile Landing and Pintail Slough and, for the truly hardy, the Inlet Canal from the River. Only certain areas of the Marsh are open to vehicle traffic, but there are also a number of foot-trails for Marsh explorers.
Havasu National Wildlife Refuge is managed by the National Wildlife Service. No fires or camping are allowed in the Refuge, except at Five-Mile Landing (Topock Marsh, Arizona side). Campers who are using Topock Gorge stay at Park Moabi the night before heading through the canyon. Campers who are using Topock Gorge will find legal campsites below Castle Rock. Water skiing is not allowed in Topock Gorge, and power boats and personal watercraft are restricted to the main river channel, but – paddlecraft are welcome to explore the backwaters.
Wildlife and birdwatchers should ask us for a copy of the Wildlife Checklist prepared by Refuge management when making reservations for crusing through this area – it contains drawings to help with identification of many species.
One of the most beautiful sections of the Colorado River, Topock Gorge features isolated coves and beaches – quiet backwaters offer great spots for picnicking, photography or napping. Topock Gorge is a wilderness area, home to abundant species of birds (many of them quite rare) and seldom seen wildlife. Bighorn sheep live in the Gorge and come down to the water to drink and watch you make your way down river.
An important archaeological site, easily accessible from the River, contains a superb collection of ancient Indian petroglyphs or “rock writing.”