March 24, 2019

Week 24: Yearning for Yuma

A U.S. Army launch vehicle on display at

Yuma Proving Grounds.

(All photos by author).

You just never know what you might find in your own backyard. This past week saw us transit from our Arizona adventures in Tucson to the town of Yuma. Located far in the southwestern corner of the state, Yuma sits right on the border with San Luis in Mexico to its south, and the town of Winterhaven, California to its west.

Like many Arizonians, we’d never had a reason to head to Yuma during the five years that we called the state home. A halfway stop between Phoenix and San Diego, Yuma isn’t always on everyone’s radar, though it should be. It most frequently makes is national news at the end of the sentence “and the highest temperature for the nation yesterday was…” and it frequently hits triple digits here most of the summer.

A carbonite Captain Solo on display at Prison Hill Brewing Company in Yuma.

But winters are pleasant, and Yuma boasts the title of the Sunniest Place on Earth. The secret is also out and Yuma doubles in size during the winter months as Canadian tourists descend on city.

We stayed a week into the town, mostly in the rambling Coronado Motor Inn. This is one of the first Best Western Hotels built almost a century ago, and makes a fine jumping off point to walk to the expanding Yuma bar scene and nightlife. Breakfast is also free for folks at the Coronado a short walk away at the Yuma Landing restaurant, a great place to just walk around and explore the aeronautical memorabilia on the walls.

On the road to Castle Dome gold mines.

We used our solo daytrip to our best advantage to hit two sites just to the north of town. First up was the Castle Dome Gold Mine and Ghost Town, a 45 minute drive north of Yuma. It was well worth the rocky traverse over the final 10 miles to the abandoned town, where the owners have turned the village into a living museum. You can walk about the church, saloons and graveyard of the old town that looks like the residents just packed up and left yesterday.

Castle Mines Ghost Town.

On the way back in to town, don’t miss the Yuma Proving Grounds museum on the U.S. Army Base of the same name. You can’t miss the turn, as it’s marked with two enormous artillery cannons on either side of the road.

Artillery rounds on display at the Yuma Proving Grounds Museum.

The YPG museum offers and amazing look at the history of the area and what’s been tested out in the desert from World War II to the present day. Don’t miss the gigantic orange “Overland Train” tested at the YPG back in the early 1960s just outside the museum, and the collection of tanks and artillery pieces on the road just outside of the main gate.

A large desert playground also surrounds Yuma, and is used not only by the military but by adventure tourists as well. The Imperial Dunes to the west offers the largest sand dune field in North America.

True story: the “Jabba’s sailing barge” scenes from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi was filmed here in the early 1980’s. Fans have since scavenged the remnants of the set, and local lore has it that one fan now has bits of the barge in their backyard!

And we also discovered that Yuma supplies a whopping 90% of the fresh produce to North America during the summer months. Date production is also big business in Yuma, though farming the delicious treat is one of the most labor intensive activities in all of agriculture, as we found out while visiting Martha’s Gardens.

Stately Martha’s Gardens.

The Rio Cerveza Brewfest 2 was a great way to wrap up our final day in Yuma before we struck out eastward once again, to New Mexico and beyond.

More to come!

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