The history of America's Southwest was all about boom-or-bust. Gold Rush towns came and went, whether it was Tombstone in the 1870s or Oatman in the early 1900s. It's a cycle that continues to this day, as evidenced by this year's Laughlin River Run in April.
We made the 300 mile trip from Los Angeles to Laughlin a couple of days early to get a jump on the crowd (and hotel rates; Tuesday and Wednesday night are a lot more reasonable than the prison sex your wallet experiences during River Run weekend). While making the 140 mile Barstow to Needles leg of the trip, the occasional gutted building reminded us of the boom/bust days of a Gold Rush; in fact, the Providence Mountains near I-40 are rife with legends and old mines.
The 25 mile run from Needles to Laughlin proper, however, held a couple of surprises. It's been four years since my last River Run, and as we got within a few miles of the casino strip, the place looked, well, more civilized than I was used to. Townhouse communities and new construction along the edges of town (and across the river in Arizona) abounded. It was a stark contrast to the skeletal buildings I'd seen from I-40. Laughlin, like other Southwestern towns, was going through a boom period.
You could also feel the boom-or-bust mentality during the rally, though. Choppers have taken a back seat to dressers in the public eye, as evidenced by the hordes of bagger jockeys we saw riding around town versus a much smaller sampling of choppers. This isn't exactly Earth-shattering news, but there were a lot more customized tourers on display in the vendor areas. It also felt like there was a lot more fat than meat in that department, too. Sure, there was a sampling of builder booths across the gamut-from big names like Arlen Ness and Exile to small up-and-comers-but they were far and away outnumbered by apparel sellers. At least, more so than in recent years, when tons of folks were making a go at it as "master bike builders."
What hadn't changed from the last time I'd been to Laughlin was the scope of events. The Hawaiian Tropic bikini contest and bike show was still intact. Oatman was still just a short hop down the road, and people were still drag racing out at the Avi casino ten miles out of town. All of this is testament to one simple rule: Come boom or bust, it's dedication that keeps a town (or an industry, or a rally) alive, not those looking to make a quick buck.