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Lighthouses In The Desert Shine New Light On Arizona's Lake Havasu

Lighthouses In The Desert

First Posted: 04/27/11 11:16 AM ET Updated: 11/15/11 10:10 AM ET

A lighthouse in the desert seems as out of place as a cactus in the middle of the ocean, right?

Maybe, but that isn't stopping the sun-scorched community of Lake Havasu City, Ariz. from having 20 of them -- with plans to add at least 15 more.

In the last 10 years, Lake Havasu City, a desert town of 52,527 located near the California border, has been putting up lighthouses all over the 40-mile-long reservoir that gives the city its name. The desert lighthouses are replicas of ones found in other parts of the country, according to Bob Keller, the official director of the Lake Havasu Lighthouse Club.

"We put the replicas of the East Coast lighthouses on the east side of the lake, and the ones from the west coast on the west side of the lake," he told AOL Weird News. "Also, the lighthouses on the north part of the lake are replicas of ones found on the Great Lakes."

Having the lighthouses look like the ones found in Maine, New Jersey or Oregon may be a little too "Epcot Center-y" for some. But Keller, who came up with the bright idea, says they serve a very real purpose.

"Accidents on the lake were always a problem at night," he said. "For a long time, we tried to get the various jurisdictions to do something. We have nine gun-carrying authorities who can ticket you on the lake."

But none of them wanted to shine a light on the problem until Keller suggested erecting "navigation lights" on the lake in 2000.

That's where semantics comes in: To the average person, the structures all over Lake Havasu are lighthouses; they look like lighthouses and have the same function. However, they are officially known as "navigation lights."

"Every single lighthouse is navigation light," Keller explained. "But while our 'lighthouses' look like lighthouses, they don't actually have houses. People can't live in them."

But Keller says he struggled getting his fellow boaters on board the "navigation light" concept -- until he suggested making them look like replica lighthouses.

He found that an easier sell and was able to get the first lighthouse, a replica of the one in West Quoddy, Maine, erected in 2002.

"That's the one the original sponsors wanted," Keller explained. "Each one costs about $4,000 and that includes the building costs, as well as the solar light -- about $1,500 -- and general maintenance fees after that."

The replicas are also smaller than the originals. For instance, the lighthouse in Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, is the tallest in the U.S. -- 209 feet -- but the replica on Lake Havasu is only 30 feet.

"Still, it's the tallest one on the lake," Keller said.

Currently, there are 20 lighthouses on the reservoir, and the next one is set to be dedicated in May.

"The Coast Guard says there are 15 other spots on the lake that could use one, but we can put up a lot more than that, if there are enough sponsors," Keller said.

That could happen. Although the city is mainly known as the home of the original London Bridge, the site where "Piranha 3D" was filmed and the former home of Hugh Hefner's fiancée, Crystal Harris, the lighthouses are becoming a tourist attraction of their own.

"There was a study done by students at Northern Arizona University that suggested that as many as 28 percent of people who visit Lake Havasu either come specifically for the lighthouses or go see them once they're here," Keller said.

Some lighthouse lovers admit duplicating different styles of beacons and putting them in a stark desert setting seems kitschy. But Gary Zaremba, a New York contractor who owns lighthouses in Maine and Ohio, figures that's sort of the point.

"I think it goes both ways," he said. "It's a way of honoring history, but it is kitschy. It's the same as people who build big columns like the Parthenon."

He added, "I do think it's a way to preserve Americana and I'd be honored if someone thought my lighthouses were historically significant enough to reproduce."

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