GPS: 34.201034, -114.149921
Turn-off AZ Hwy. 95 @ Cienega Springs Rd.
Parker, AZ 85344
October-April from high noon until sundown (closed in the hot summer months and at the discretion of the owner). See below for more details.
Location: In the middle of the desert
How to get there: Offroad only, no paved roads
Credit cards accepted: No – cash only
Food available for purchase: Yes
Pets & kids welcomed: Yes
Entrance to the Desert Bar
There are many excellent bars in Lake Havasu City where you can get a drink, unwind or party, but there is only one bar in the area where you can also walk away with an appreciation for the artsy, quirky funk of the lower Sonoran Desert that is unique to any place on earth. That place is the Nellie E. Saloon, commonly known as the Desert Bar (www.thedesertbar.com), located near Parker, Arizona in the heart of the Buckskin Mountains just 30 minutes away.
The Desert Bar is normally open from October to April, Saturdays and Sundays only, from high noon to sundown, and on most holidays during these months. The bar is closed during the hot summer months. Normally they open on Labor Day Weekend and close after Memorial Day Weekend. Thanksgiving is the biggest weekend of the year and the bar is open Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday with live bands on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It’s only open one night of the year: New Year’s Eve – IF it falls on a weekend! The owner may change closing and opening dates/times at his descretion, so call ahead or check their website before heading out.
Families, kids, and pets are welcome. Bring cash – no credit or debit cards are accepted. Burgers and hot dogs are cooked on a large outdoor grill regularly, and sometimes other fare is available, but no one comes just for the food! As a last note, they don’t serve cheese – “ever” – so if you want a cheeseburger, best you grab one before you head out.
History of the Desert Bar
Ken Coughlin, founder of this saloon, built the Desert Bar at the site of an old copper mining camp in 1975. Although all remnants of the original camp are gone, its spirit lives; its parking lot is located directly on the site where the mining camp once stood. At first, the saloon was a three-sided enclosed room, not much bigger than a small storage shed. Today, while maintaining its Old West character, Coughlin has expanded it substantially.
Unique and Green
The inside of the saloon now boasts many vintage and one-of-a-kind features. Its windows are made out of old glass refrigerator doors, the bar stools are hand welded steel, and the ceiling is made of stamped tin. The saloon’s electrical supply is solar power. It’s cooled by a cooling tower that works like a swamp cooler without a fan. (By wetting the pads on top, cool air falls, creating a refreshing airflow.) The saloon also has horseshoe pits and a bridge to get from the parking lot to the saloon. A stage for live music and D.J. is up from October through March (approximately) on Saturdays and Sundays, 1pm-5pm, depending on the weather.
Another novelty stands outside of the saloon – what appears to be a “church” rises from the desert floor, reflecting sunlight from the well-aged patina of its copper roof. However, upon closer inspection one learns the church is more of a facade than an actual structure. There is no inside area. Constructed of solid steel with walls and ceilings made from stamped tin, plaques in the church bear the names of people who donated money to help build it, but no actual services are held here. It simply provides a picture perfect backdrop with “Old West” appeal.
The Road Less Traveled, aka “The Back Way”
Off-road enthusiasts who come to the Desert Bar via the “back way” also have the opportunity to experience the steep hills and beautiful desert scenery on the way. One can see the majestic wildlife and desert plants that give a true taste of Arizona, with its blue sky and rocky terrain, as well as old, abandoned mining shafts (be careful, as they are not maintained or clearly marked). For the off-road desert route (“the back way”), a four wheel drive vehicle is required.
From Lake Havasu City, travel south on Highway 95 for 25 miles until you reach Gas Market & Boat/RV storage on the left side of the highway between mile markers 156 and 155 . Watch for the giant chicken on the roof, and turn left into the driveway of the RV and Boat storage. Follow the road to the left into the narrow canyon. GPS 34.255558, -114.147963.
In about 0.3 miles, there will be a fork in the road at which you will see an information kiosk; turn left. A hill climb will follow. Desert landscape can sometimes have loose terrain and be hard to judge, so be extra careful. Keep going for 0.7 miles, and turn right at a sign marked HS 245. Another fork lies ahead at which you need to either go left over a steep hill or go around to the bottom of the hill and to the right. In about 1.3 miles, you will enter into a rocky wash. The route will take you directly south; stay on the established trail. In 3.3 more miles, you will climb a narrow, rocky shelf road; be extra cautious. Travel for about 4 miles until you see another information kiosk. Turn left at the last and final fork in the road at the signs marked “Gray Eagle Mine Trail.” You should see the saloon across the valley.
The last part of the journey goes by fast. Stay on the main trail, while making way into a winding wash. At 5.2 miles, you will come to a T in the road. Take a right, and follow the signs another 5.3 miles.
How to get there by car, aka “The Easy Way”
From Lake Havasu City, take Highway 95 south. Turn left on the exit marked Cienega Springs Road (GPS 34.190502, -114.209925). Travel .6 miles until you come to a fork in the road. Follow the road, as the trail curves slightly to the right. Travel an additional 1.1 miles until the road starts to curve left; follow the trail for 3.1 more miles. Follow the road as it curves right, then left, then right once more. Keep going, and the saloon should be in clear sight. “The easy way” can be busy at times with cars, trucks, off-road vehicles and dirt bikes. Let faster traffic pass. The Cienega Springs Road is not paved, narrow at times, and parts of the terrain is very rough. Regular passenger vehicles can take a beating so drive slow and use caution.
Map and directions are accurate at the time of publication. The desert is wilderness, and trails are subject to erosion and may change. Use caution when offroading. Photo credits: www.thedesertbar.com; Joe Sena, Parker, AZ
- Months: October-April