Aside from the advent of air conditioning, it was the construction of Bullhead Dam, now Davis Dam, and the creation of Lake Mohave that are the foundation for the oasis that is Bullhead City. It and the construction of other dams along the Colorado River transformed the American southwest.
The first successful project to harness the Colorado River was in 1892. In that year the Grand Ditch to transport water across the Continental Divide into eastern Colorado was completed.
The modern era of Colorado River containment occurred in 1902 with establishment of the U.S. Reclamation Service (Bureau of Reclamation). This was just three years before a major flood on the lower Colorado River breeched an irrigation ditch and retaining walls. The water poured into the Salton Sink creating the Salton Sea.
The first decades of the 20th century was an era of transition in the southwest. Before completion of the railroad across western Arizona and the Mojave Desert of California, the Colorado River was an artery of commerce. Riverboats offloaded everything needed to transform rough and tumble mining camps into oasis of civilization in the Arizona wilderness.
Largely replaced by the railroad, riverboats remained a key component of commerce, especially in the upper Colorado River basin near the confluence of the Virgin River into the first years of the 20th century. It was completion of the Laguna Dam near Yuma in 1909 that marked the end of that chapter in southwest history.
Arthur Powell Davis, the director of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from 1914 to 1923 and namesake for Davis Dam, was a visionary. He was uniquely qualified to lead efforts to transform the Colorado River Valley.
He had intimate first hand knowledge of the Colorado Basin. Numerous trips had been made along the river with his uncle, John Wesley Powell, the one armed Civil War veteran that that had been the first person to traverse the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River.
In 1922 he delivered to Congress with a comprehensive study of the Colorado Basin with detailed plans to harness the river as a means of transforming the desert southwest into an agricultural paradise. In the study he also outlined plans for staged construction of a series of dams for hydroelectric use.
Boulder Dam, now Hoover dam, was the first and the largest of he projects undertaken. Parker Dam was built between 1934 and 1938.
Initial work on Davis Dam commenced in late 1941. WWII brought the project to a standstill. It also almost resulted in cancellation of the endeavor.
After completion of surveys, in May of 1942 the United States Army Air Corps Army Air Force authorized construction of one of six aerial gunnery schools at Kingman, Arizona. To expedite construction of the Kingman Army Airfield work on Davis Dam was temporarily suspended. Crews and equipment were assigned to the Kingman project and the new base officially opened on August 4, 1942.
An array of issues including funding and a shortage of materials prevented resumption of dam construction immediately after the war. Further delay was resultant of congressional hearings and a review of Colorado River Valley development projects. In spite of these issues Davis Dam was completed in 1951.
The creation of Lake Mohave served as a cornerstone for Bullhead City to develop as a recreational oasis in the desert. And the dam also curtailed flooding that had plagued river valley development for a century.
To learn more about Bullhead City as a vacation destination, or a place to call home, contact the Bullhead Area Chamber of Commerce.
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America