BULLHEAD CITY, Ariz. — The city of Bullhead City received a two-ton Christmas present — a desert tortoise named Poki.
The giant sculpture stands next to the Bullhead Area Chamber of Commerce sign on Highway 95.
The tortoise was donated by Bill Hayes, a former winter visitor to Bullhead City, who had the sculpture in his yard. For health reasons, Hayes stopped driving south for the winter and now lives full-time in Eureka, Mont.
How Poki came to be is a story that takes us to both Las Vegas and Tucson. On one of his trips south several years ago, Hayes noticed some unique landscaping near downtown Las Vegas, at a freeway interchange known locally as the "Spaghetti Bowl."
(asterisk) The landscaping included sculptures of giant tortoises. Hayes said, "I saw those tortoises and I thought, 'wow, one of those would look really cool at the corner of my property,'?" at the intersection of Locust Boulevard and Locust Court in Bullhead City.
Hayes made several calls to determine which agency was responsible for the tortoise display, so he could find out how to get in touch with the manufacturer. Eventually he was connected with the Nevada Department of Transportation landscaper in Carson City and learned the manufacturer was based in Tucson.
"They only make one at a time," he said. "They're totally hand-made. They're not something that comes out of a mold."
The tortoise consists of concrete reinforced with steel rods.
"And after about a month's negotiation, we came to an agreement, and I ordered it," Hayes said. He told the manufacturer he wanted the tortoise to look as "realistic as possible and with just a slight smile."
Hayes wouldn't say how much the tortoise cost, but said it was "a fair amount of money, well above the poverty level."
About two months later, the tortoise was ready for Hayes to pick up with a car trailer.
"Driving from Tucson to Bullhead City was a true joy. You can't believe how many pictures were taken of that tortoise," Hayes said.
Back in Bullhead, he named the turtle Poki, because "It's just a pokey old tortoise," Hayes quipped.
When he was ready to leave town for good last year, Hayes had no idea what would happen to Poki if he left him behind at the north Bullhead residence.
"Having it there was cool, but it wasn't as visible as it could be," he said.
Hayes decided to donate Poki. He first thought of Laughlin/Bullhead International Airport, because his house had a view of the runway. "I thought maybe it would be cool for these landing passengers to see something like that and maybe put a smile on their face," Hayes said.
When airport officials passed, he called City Manager Toby Cotter. Hayes said Cotter enthusiastically accepted his offer. Hayes' only stipulation was the sculpture had to be picked up by Dec. 31.
"Recreation Manager David Heath worked with the Park and Recreation Commission and Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chris Barton to select the location," Cotter said. "City Public Works staff moved the tortoise from Bill's property to its new home in Community Park. The city sincerely appreciate Bill's generous donation. It adds yet another significant element to our beautification projects," Cotter said.
"We picked this location in Community Park because it's right outside the Chamber and Visitors Center, along the river," said Pawan Agrawal, Bullhead City public works director. "We thought it would be a great location for people to pull over, appreciate Poki, and also take pictures and perhaps get more interested in our community," he said.
"As soon as they were done putting Poki in place, not even an hour later, people were taking photos with him," Barton said. "Poki's bringing great numbers of walk-in traffic to the Visitors Center," which is averaging 100 people per day, she said.
The chamber won't be doing a comparison with last January's numbers until the end of the month but "it just seems like the Visitors Center is far busier. We're also noticing that a lot of our brochures and our material are disappearing off the racks a lot quicker," Barton said, marveling, "Who would have thought a tortoise statue could do that?"