Is Danielle too nice?

After reading The Ghost Who Lied, one reader suggested that Danielle might be “too good to be true.” She based this on Danielle’s seemingly blasé attitude regarding a potential lawsuit. However, I would have to respectfully disagree. I believe Danielle’s attitude was not borne from martyrdom selflessness—but practical reality.

My husband and I have owned businesses—and we have managed businesses. One thing we have learned over the years, a business is always open to a potential lawsuit. Like Danielle, we didn’t fret over the possibility, instead, we tried to take preventive measures, and we had insurance.

Danielle informing the insurance company of a potential lawsuit is something I have done myself—and in one notable case, we were as inculpable as Danielle.  An airplane had crashed when attempting to land on the dirt airstrip at Havasu Palms. Fortunately, no one was killed. One of the first things I did—after dealing with the crash—was to contact the insurance company. I didn’t believe we were liable, but I was not going to agonize over it—that is why we had insurance. The same was true for Danielle.

As it turned out, Havasu Palms was sued, yet the case was eventually dropped when it was determined that the crash didn’t actually take place on our lease land. However, the insurance company bore the cost of the lawsuit.

Over the years, we have seen other lawsuits where the insurance company opted to simply settle a nuisance case, believing it would save them money in the long run. It always bothered me that they are willing to pay scammers to get rid of them—but it’s not that unusual.

Therefore, I don’t believe Danielle’s behavior was indicative of some goodie-good Pollyanna, but instead of a practical realist.






Remembering the Real Walt

laughBWThe real Walt for me is my dad—Walt Johnson. He passed away 23 years ago today. It’s hard to imagine he’s been gone for almost a quarter of a century.

Dad loved Christmas, and I suppose I missed him most those last few Christmases he spent with us—because he was noticeably absent those last few years. Oh, I’m not saying he was physically elsewhere—he spent Christmas with us. Nor did he check out mentally. It wasn’t as if he was suffering from some form of dementia.

But, Dad was so ill those last couple years of his life; the man who loved Christmas, was no longer involved.

In Haunting Danielle’s The Ghost Who Came for Christmas, Danielle cooks up a batch of oyster stew for Christmas Eve, a recipe she is not thrilled with, but it was a tradition of her late father’s, so she feels compelled to prepare it.  Dad’s signature dish on Christmas Eve was oyster stew—and like Danielle, I was not fond of it.  I don’t prepare it on Christmas Eve, but I let Danielle do it for me.

Dad had been battling congestive heart failure for a couple years before he died. Don and I moved to Havasu in 1991, with our two young children, to help my parents run the family business, Havasu Palms—and to help Mom take care of Dad, which included running him to the hospital several times a week for overnight treatment.  When I say running him to the hospital, I mean taking him across the lake on Havasu Palms’ supply boat.

Mom and I stayed by Dad’s side that last week. He had been in and out of the hospital numerous times during the year prior to his death, yet we knew this trip to intensive care was different. The night he died, Mom and I got a hotel room in town, and Don returned across the lake to Havasu Palms, with the kids.

During that final week, Dad had been out of it. We weren’t able to have a real conversation, and when he did say something, he really didn’t understand where he was or what was going on. At one point, he started rambling about seeing people he knew.

A male nurse showed up during that last day—we had never seen him before, and considering the amount of times Dad was in and out of intensive care, we knew the entire staff.

But this nurse said he was on loan from another hospital, and strangely, he didn’t seem to have any other patients he needed to tend to.  Instead, he spent the time with my mother, talking to her about Dad, encouraging her to talk about their life together.

I will confess, I rather wanted him to go away. I just wanted to be alone in my grief—yet, Mom seemed to need him.  So, I didn’t say anything—and mom continued to talk to the nurse, letting him help her through her impending loss.

When she had said all she had to say, he quietly excused himself—and disappeared. We never saw him again, and I will admit, we have often wondered if he wasn’t a nurse at all. An angel perhaps?

Later that evening, after Mom and I checked into our hotel room and grabbed something to eat, I told Mom I felt we needed to get back to the hospital.  It was not long after we returned to the hospital that Dad moved on.

I remember how it reminded me of being at a train station or an airport, when we’d wait with someone who was waiting to take off on a trip. (Back in the days when you could wait at the airport with someone departing.)  You sit there and talk a little, maybe say nothing, then when the train or plane arrives everyone starts talking and saying their goodbyes.

It was like that for us. The moment Dad flat lined—I began talking to him.  All week I had been by his side, yet it had been impossible to communicate with him. I figured this was my last chance. During his illness I had read numerous books on near death experiences, and the belief that a person’s departing spirit can hear all that is happening around his body immediately following death.

I told him how much I loved him. What a good father he had been. I told him my sister Lynn wished she could be with him. I told him to follow the light.  Mom joined in and started talking to him too, saying her goodbyes.  I did my best to ignore the female nurse who was now in the room, and not allow myself to grow silent from embarrassment. Saying goodbye to Dad was much too important.

I remember the feeling of being engulfed by his love.  The day after his death, a tenant of Havasu Palms’ mobile home park offered me her condolences. In that moment, I remembered something Dad had told me the previous Christmas, when I had asked him want he wanted. He told me, “Get me something you want.” His meaning of course, was that since he was dying, whatever I gave him, I would be getting back.

Dad had this amazing—and sometimes inappropriate sense of humor—so when the woman offered her sympathies, I said without thinking, “At least I hadn’t bought his Christmas present yet.”

Of course, she looked at me like I was either insane or a horrible person. Yet, I could hear Dad’s roar of laughter at my comment, and once again, his love embraced me.

Merry Christmas Daddy. I miss you.

(Photo: me and my dad, Walt)

Was Walt Johnson haunting the Road’s End Restaurant?

Havasu Palms_064Back when I managed Havasu Palms’ Road’s End Restaurant, we installed a computerized point of sale system. We were one of the first Havasu restaurants to go computerized – even before such notables as Shugrues.

While computerized POS systems are commonplace today – that wasn’t the case back in the early 90s.

The Road’s End Restaurant’s POS system involved two touchscreen computers – one in the waitress station and one at the bar. Neither had a hard-drive, and both were hooked up to the main computer – located in my office at the rear of the restaurant.

Placing an order involved entering it at the bar or waitress station computer. If it was a food order, the order printed out on the small printer in the kitchen. If it was a drink order, that one printed out on the small printer behind the bar.

The system was installed before my father passed away in December of 1992. Back in those days most folks weren’t that computer savvy and as far as most of the crew knew, the only way to send orders were from the waitress station or bar computer. But I had a secret – I could also place an order from my office.

My father, Walt Johnson – founder and developer of Havasu Palms had recently passed away. One evening after the kitchen closed, Don and I went up to the bar to say goodnight to the remaining employees and customers – all who were seated at the bar. They could see the kitchen and hallway leading to my office was dark. After saying our goodbyes, we left out the side door – supposedly to go home.

Before I reached my golf cart to head home Dad’s playful spirit encouraged me to slip back into the restaurant at the back door – and to my office. From my office computer I sent a message to the bar printer.

Imagine our bartender Bonnie’s expression when the printer started spitting out paper. Glancing to the kitchen, she could see there was no one in the waitress station…and since she was the only one behind the bar, who was sending her an order? Was it perhaps some forgotten order stuck in the system and had somehow unstuck and decided to print?

Hesitantly she approached the bar computer, tore the piece of paper from the printer and slipped on her reading glasses.

It wasn’t an order. . . it was a message: Walt says hello.


Looking back at the Roads End Camp

Every once in a while I’ll receive an email from someone who used to visit Havasu Palms back in its Roads End heyday. I love it when people share their stories with me. Here is an email I received a little over a week ago. I wanted to get his permission before I posted the email. When Mr. Danielson granted his permission, he mentioned he recognized one of the men from the book, and I believe the above photo is the one he was referencing.

I was looking for information on “Roads End Camp” and happened across the website.  I read your story.  I used to camp there from 1957 through the summer of 1964 with my parents.  Have always wanted to go back, but too many wars and interventions got in the way.  I’m sure the only things I would recognize now would be the road and Pilot Rock.  I once buried “treasure” there, on the sandy shelf in about 4 feet of water .  I have ordered your books from Amazon (paperbacks) and looking forward to the old pictures.  We used to fish under the bridge and over at Parker Dam.  My dad got to know one of the divers that cleaned the underwater gates.  He could tell some stories about giant catfish down there.  I remember the time we were ‘asked” to leave Squaw Dam because it was on a reservation.  We had been going there for years.  Vidal Junction was a place at the edge of the world then, the last sign of civilization (well almost).  Your sister is right, “…the best of times”.

We never met and I was recovering from my first tour when you first saw Roads End.  I get the feeling that the camp (Havasu Palms) became special to you too.  I’m sure the family connection played a major role in that; but back then, the way it was, the place could put a spell on you.  Reading your story has saddened me, but helped to put a touch of closure too.  Knowing what I do now, I wouldn’t want to go back.  I’ve never gone back to Pico Rivera since leaving.  Too much change, too many memories of how it once was.  I once walked across “London Bridge”, before it moved to Arizona!

 Thank You,

 Joe Danielson, CMS USAF (Ret)

My Claims to Fame

Antique manual typewriter isolated on whiteMy claims to fame in high school were that I drove a boat to school and that I typed all my notes.

The first made me cool – the second made me nerdy. So I suppose they sort of balanced me out.

Living on the California side of Lake Havasu at Havasu Palms, I took a 12-mile (round trip) boat ride each school day – beginning in my sophomore year. A friend who lived with my family for a portion of my sophomore year shared the boat ride with me, but for most of the time, it was a solo run.

My boating adventures included numerous engine failures – being caught in storms – once I sunk the boat (okay, I did make it to shore, but it was going down fast) – and once I rescued a drowning man (okay, he wasn’t drowning exactly; he had foolishly put an engine on his canoe, and when I found him his canoe had capsized and he was precariously holding onto the tip of the craft in frigid water).

As for the notes – those were typed on an old red Royal typewriter my grandfather had given me. The keyboard – now attached to a computer instead of typewriter — remains my preference over pen and paper. Had laptops been invented back when I was in high school, then perhaps the typing thing wouldn’t have seemed so nerdy.

Dark Nights and Fast Boats on Lake Havasu


Racing down Lake Havasu south from Lake Havasu City, heading toward Parker Dam isn’t such a terrific idea once the sun has set, especially when you pass Havasu Palms. This was especially true a few years back, when navigation lights were even scarcer than they are now.

I remember one year- when we were still at Havasu Palms – a boat raced past the park and veered right, into Whipple Bay, instead of staying in the center of the main channel. This landed the boat on the shoreline across from Havasu Palms’ mobile home park along Whipple Bay.

As was the routine when an accident occurred near the park, someone came to get one of us from Havasu Palms management. After all, it wasn’t like they could call a local cop.

They found Don at the restaurant, and informed him a boat had just crashed on the other side of Whipple Bay; they heard it. Don immediately drove from the restaurant to the mobile home park.

Sound carries exceptionally well across the water. When Don arrived, he could hear shouts of help coming from the darkness, across the bay.

Standing at the shore Don called out, “Is anyone hurt?

“No, we’re fine!” He heard them call back.

Sadly, we’ve seen our share of boating accidents over the years, and often people die. Don was relieved to hear no one was hurt.

The next moment Don heard them call out, “We need a ride to shore!”

Don paused a moment, then shouted back, “You’re already on the shore!”

(Photo: Whipple Bay at Havasu Palms, California)

Don’t tell anyone. It’s a secret.

Road into Havasu PalmsI write about the place where I grew up – Havasu Palms – in two of my books, Havasu Palms, A Hostile Takeover, and Where the Road Ends, Havasu Palms Recipes and Remembrances.

In spite of how it all turned out, we have some incredible memories – not to mention countless humorous anecdotes. One story involves my father’s own brand of humor.

Havasu Palms was a mobile home park, marina and restaurant, located at the end of a 12 mile dirt road and situated along the shores of Lake Havasu. Those last eight miles of road into the park will probably never be paved, not only because of the expense, but because it runs through a wash and is subject to frequent flash flooding.

People were always amazed to find double-wide mobile homes had actually made it over the dirt road. For some people, their first drive into the park was traumatic, focusing not on the spectacular scenery, but the primitive and rough road.

When we moved to the park in 1968 there were about 28 full-time travel trailers and a campground. Most of the tenants didn’t live there full time – but their trailers stayed year round and Havasu Palms was a weekend getaway. When we left around the turn of the century, Havasu Palms had 131 mobile home sites, and no campground.

Onto my story…

One day when my father was working by the Havasu Palms store doing some surveying, one of the more nosey, busybody tenants asked him what he was doing.

“It’s a secret, you have to promise not to tell anyone,” my dad told him. The tenant, now even more curious, vowed to keep the secret.

“Okay, as long as you don’t tell anyone. They’re cutting a new road into the park, which will be paved.”

The tenant couldn’t wait to get back to his trailer. From the store you can look across the bay and see a portion of the trailer park. My father stood by the store and watched as this tenant made his way home, stopping at every occupied trailer along the way.

View To Park

It wasn’t too long before another tenant hurried over to the store, excitedly asking Dad for details about the new road.

Keeping a straight face, Dad asked him what he was talking about, and never fessed up to the falsehood. Of course, that left the second tenant rather pissed off at the first one.

As would be expected, the spreader of the tale returned, upset at Dad and asking him why he had told him the story of a new road.

Once again keeping a straight face, Dad said, “I told you not to tell anyone.”