Why Yuma?

It’s close to three Easter Sunday morning. As I stumble to the kitchen to brew my first cup of coffee, I realize I never had my coffee yesterday.

Early Saturday morning it was a cool 63-degree at six-thirty when we left for our day’s adventure to Yuma. After a short exercise period, Bernie and Chris jumped back in the car. They didn’t know they would be traveling for several hours. They expected to go back home, and within fifteen minutes, they would be wolfing down their breakfast.

What they eventually got was sharing two warm hot dogs from Dateland Travel Center. It was that same Dateland we had visited less than a month ago.

I stopped to buy two jars of Dateland shake mix and a Date recipe book. date mix350

Last Wednesday, during our therapy dog visit, a member asked me to pick it up. He had visited Dateland a couple of years ago and enjoyed their Dateshake.

It was almost nine in the morning when we stopped. That is when Bernie and Chris enjoyed their warm hot dog breakfast. Once we got back on the road, they knew they were in for the long haul.

Excellent travelers, they easily adapt to the routine. When the car reaches a constant travel rhythm, they settle down, and there isn’t a peep out of them.

Once the car motion changes, both heads pop up and scan for the new adventure. They know I will let them out to explore. It’s always new and exciting.

I’m prepared. Bernie and Chris have their alert collars, and the dog whistle hangs from my neck. Women adorn their neckline with jewelry; I wear my dog whistle.

After ten minutes, I call them. They jump back in the car, and we are off to wherever. They don’t care. Within an hour they know we will stop and they have another opportunity to examine whatever is out there.

Today will be different for a couple of reasons. First, I have already traveled the first part of the route. I already know what to expect. I can relax and enjoy the drive.

The first time I was constantly scanning for something to explore. Today I can relax until we reach Dateland.

Although I didn’t realize it, my subconscious was busy. Before today’s drive is over, I will understand why I feel the way I do about this part of America. Maybe I already knew why. Today I confirmed why.

Yes, history is important. However, today it is my slice of living in America. It will become an ‘A-Ha!’ acceptance.

More about that later.

Yuma’s recent history got much attention in 1847 when United States troops marched through Gila Valley during the Mexican War when Fort Yuma was established.

However, the Yuma Indians who have lived in this area have always had enemies from the first Europeans in 1542.  Francisco Coronado lead an exploration in search of the so-called Seven Golden Cities. Another group was the Jesuits from Spain who tried to do missionary work.

Soldiers were sent to establish settlements. The appearance of the soldiers would play a major force to enable Yuma to grow.

Here’s how the early Yuma Indians defended their territory.

” Their weapons of war were the customary bow and arrow. The arrow was tipped with small heads of chert, obsidian, old bottle glass, or iron. The tips were poisoned by thrusting them into the liver of a dead horse. The poisonous liver was prepared in several ways. One was to shut up scorpions, tarantulas, and rattlesnakes with the horse liver. After irritating the poisonous creatures, the liver would then become saturated with the venom given.”

Why Yuma?

Spanish explorers had been traveling the west coast of Mexico and America (Arizona and California) since the 1500’s. The route they traveled was called the Sonora Road.

At Yuma were two massive granite outcroppings on the Colorado River. The narrowing of the river provided the only crossing points for a thousand miles.

“The Yuma Crossing became the focal point for travel to the Wild West, from the 1840’s California Gold Rush to the arrival of the railroad in 1877, and finally the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge, which linked the East Coast and the West coast in one land route.”

The Butterfield Overland Mail Trail was a stagecoach service from 1857-61. It used the Yuma Crossing.

Travelers submitting themselves to a torturous stagecoach ride endured several days of extreme discomfort. Consider this stagecoach accommodation  Butterfield stage400  to the way people travel today. motorhome400

In my car, I enjoyed traveling in airconditioned comfort down smooth, paved Interstates 8 and 10. Highway 95 from Yuma to Quartzsite is also smooth, paved and provided some interesting dips as the road followed the land instead of being scooped level, like the interstates.

My total journey today was 381 miles. It was a round trip from Surprise, Arizona to Yuma and Quartzsite and back home. I left at six-thirty in the morning and was back home before three in the afternoon.

Stagecoach travel, on a good day, was about twenty-five miles. Thus, the same journey would take at least fifteen days.

Once the army troops arrived in 1847, Yuma was the distribution point for all goods coming by boat via the Colorado River and overland from San Diego.

The Yuma Quartermaster Depot had to maintain a six-month supply of much-needed goods such as ammunition, food, and clothing. Goods and supplies were brought by ships, flat-bottom riverboats, and mule team freight wagons.  Yuma quartermaster depot450

Yuma was laid out in a wide-street grid pattern. Why wide streets? It was so the twenty-mule-teams could navigate through the streets. Up to 900 mules were kept at the Yuma Quartermaster Depot.

The arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1877 signaled the end of the depot. It was closed in 1880 when the railroad reached Tucson.

The Prison

When I told our Wednesday visit folks I was going to Yuma this Saturday, I heard “You have to visit the prison.”

I had an involuntary scenic-side trip while trying to find the prison. I ended up on the west side of the Colorado River. I went over a single lane bridge next to a newer railroad bridge.

I turned into a Mexican police station with an abandoned barracks. I let Bernie and Chris out to investigate while I walked around the fairly small area. Here’s a photo showing the chapel and the bridge I crossed.  across colorado

I think the prison is in the background. That’s the closest I got. I saw the prison sign just after I passed it. Taking the next street had me ending up across the river.

For the thirty-three years the prison held prisoners, it continues to be very popular for tourists. Three thousand prisoners, one hundred twenty-six escapes with twenty-six being successful.

When it comes to criminal celebrities, Pearl Hart, convicted of robbing a stagecoach, was best known. Reporters came for all over to interview her.  Pearl Hart425

She was pardoned early, gave interviews and tried acting. That didn’t work out, and she faded from history.

The overcrowded conditions in 1909 led to the prison being closed and the prisoners transferred to the Florence, Arizona prison.

As it happened, the Yuma High School burned down that same year, and from 1910-1914 the student classrooms were held in various prison buildings. The athletic teams were nicknamed “The Criminals.”

By this time, it was a little after noon, and I’d driven about two hundred miles. The weather was nice. The sky started out overcast and cool for the first couple of hours.

The pleasant morning temperature, almost no road traffic, air free of pollution and the quiet desert landscape with several mountains in all far directions lulled me. I was in my element.

Shortly after leaving Dateland, I found myself trying to catch a mile-long train. The railroad tracks paralleled Interstate 8.

A single track for hundreds of miles, there is always a long train with multiple diesel engines pulling its load either east or west. The speed of the west train I chased had to be at least fifty-five. I enjoy traveling about sixty or sixty-five. We both slowly ate up the miles to Yuma. It was a pleasant way to pass the time… estimating how far before I passed him.

It took about fifty miles.

As we came nearer to Yuma, civilization started to appear. Until now, the land was flat. Now the foothills caused the rise in elevation until I could see Yuma laid out like a tabletop.

Tabletop history shows Yuma morphed into three separate categories: Military, Agriculture, and Tourism.

At first glance, tourism stands out. Arizona’s mild winter climate make it a Winter Visitor Mecca.

It is like a multi-white-colored quilt with Recreation Vehicle Parks on the outskirts of Yuma.

My street-level view was a few miles of Recreation Vehicle Parks, then I saw mile after mile of warehouse-style businesses.

The population closer to the city sprawls individual homes.  Yuma-1-425

I was street deep into populated areas and would not see the many acres of vegetable farms until I drove on highway 95 to Quartzsite.

Farming is a huge commercial industry. Lettuce is “Green Gold.”

The photo shows a very small portion of farming in Yuma.  Yuma-4-425

The military base was established in 1942. The weather was ideal for training, and the vast land allowed range for all manner of ordnance access. Today the Marine Corp Air Station Yuma has Harrier planes with their ability to take off and land vertically.

 two F-35-425  Two F-35 Harrier jets

Once I put Bernie and Chris back in the car, left the Mexican police station and drove back across the one lane bridge, I decided to take highway 95 north to Quartzsite.

While leaving Yuma on highway 95, I experienced a sense of relief. I think it happened because on both sides of the highway was the smell of turned soil.

It is Spring, and there are crops in various growth stages. I smelled the onions, their long slender green stalks. Cabbage is the next crop I drove by. It will be a few months before they are ripe for picking.

City Yuma is in my rearview mirror. Just watching it get smaller allows me to breathe easier.

Until that moment, I wasn’t aware of my need for space. I’ve always enjoyed travel. I’m not that ‘mountain man’ who lives off the earth. I don’t own a gun, and I don’t own a fishing rod. My sleeping on the ground went the way with my Explorer uniform when I was a teenager.

As I enjoyed the smells of the western air without pollution and the wide open spaces… it was easy to compare it to living in a city. I’ve been there and done that. I’ve no desire to visit or live city lifestyle.

Today, not only did I enjoy visiting Yuma for a historical point of view, I enjoyed recognizing what subconsciously I must have known for some time.

I’ve always enjoyed travel, but I never understood why. I was always going somewhere, but I didn’t know why.

Now I can relax when I hear, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”

I now know why I enjoy my emotional experience when I journey.

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