On the banks of the Colorado River, Yuma is tucked in Arizona’s southwest corner and shares borders with California and Mexico. About halfway between San Diego and Tucson, Yuma is a great destination for RVing snowbirds. Whether you’re a history buff or have a curious interest in how Yuma became the Gateway of the Great Southwest, we’ve got a list to help you get to some of the area’s top attractions.
Get Locked Up — Fans of Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures know it as “Hell Hole Prison” for the dark and twisted tales which linger long after the last inmates occupied this first prison of the Arizona Territory. For many others, the 1957 and 2007 films “3:10 to Yuma” are what bring this “Hell Hole Prison” to mind and, today, Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park is open, welcoming convicts of another kind. Turn yourself in for a fascinating experience, which includes a look into “The Dark Cell” and a look back at the men AND women who served hard time in Yuma. Parole include with the price of admission. For more information, click here.
A River Runs Through It — Yuma’s storied history as a Colorado River crossing point is only scratching the surface. The Yuma Quartermaster Depot was a U.S. Army supply distribution point for forts throughout the American Southwest, established in the 1860s. Believe it or not, steam wheel boats came up the Colorado River from the Gulf of California to drop those supplies off, making Yuma the ideal point along the river to get goods to personnel, until the Southern Pacific Railroad was finalized in the 1870s. Today, Colorado River State Historic Park preserves the history of the facility while providing more information about Yuma as a Colorado River community and the engineering behind one of its impressive canal systems. For more information, click here.
The Jewel of Historic Yuma — As with so many stories about Yuma’s past, it isn’t just about the where or the what, but also who. E.F. Sanguinetti was a man who helped transform the economy of Yuma with his business acumen heading into and through the start of the 20th century. The Sanguinetti House and Gardens stands to honor his contributions and provide a deeper look into Yuma’s past.
All Aboard! — The very first train to enter into Arizona did so at Yuma, crossing over the Colorado River from California in 1877. And, although that original crossing point no longer exists, a 1907 Baldwin locomotive sits on the very spot where the tracks entered town. At the Pivot Point Interpretive Plaza, visitors will find a revitalized park adorned with plaques detailing the railroad, the nearby tribal communities, and river history.
Get Lost Looking at Stuff — You’ve seen the shows on television of “pickers” visiting vast collections of stuff, oftentimes many decades old. At the Cloud Museum, you’ll find one of those places neatly organized into an outdoor display of vintage cars, trucks, tractors, power tools, hand tools, household equipment, boat engines, wheels, and items from local businesses. The Museum, located just north of Yuma in Bard, California, is nearly 30 years of stuff assembled by its owner Johnny Cloud.
On the Town— At the end of the Gila Trail, Main Street has always been the heart of “old Yuma.” In 1849, more than 60,000 California-bound gold-seekers followed this path to the rope ferry across the Colorado River. But being so close to the river, downtown often flooded and its adobe buildings melted back into mud. Because the last “big one” was in 1916, most Main Street buildings now date from the 1920s.
Today, Yuma’s historic downtown offers a wide variety of shopping, dining, and old-fashioned street fairs and festivals.
Fruit of Kings — A food tour will enhance any visit to Yuma. The Yuma area now totals about 10 million pounds of Medjool dates a year, a $30 to $35 million dollar industry that employs more than 2,000 people annually. Since Yuma is a top producers of gourmet Medjools be sure to take a tour at Martha’s Gardens. After the tour ends, you’ll return to the farm store for samples and a delicious date milkshake, and we simply had to purchase a box of jumbo dates.
We’re Nuts about You!— The Peanut Patch has become a rich tradition in Southwest Arizona. A trip to Yuma simply would not be complete without stopping by for a visit. You will be a welcome guest of the George family. Inside the store are hundreds of different candies and natural snacks that, when combined make great gift baskets, boxes, and tins suitable for any gift-giving occasions. Free tours are available.
One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.
From hiking and backpacking to birding and wildlife watching, this compendium of facts, figures, and travel tips about 14 Arizona’s state parks will inspire your RV adventures for months to come. The other 20 parks are on our bucket list. Founded in 1953, Arizona State Parks and Trails have evolved into an important part of the state outdoor recreation.
Arizona State Parks Dashboard
Oldest State Park: Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, founded in 1958
Newest State Park: Rockin’ River State Park (due late 2021)
Closest to Downtown Phoenix: Lost Dutchman State Park (41 miles)
Closest to Downtown Tucson: Catalina State Park (15 miles)
Largest State Park: Oracle State Park (4,000 acres)
Smallest State Park: Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park (12,000 square feet)
Annual Visitors: 3.2 Million (2019)
Arizona State Parks sells two annual passes to help you save money and time. The Standard pass ($75/year) allows day-use access for you and up to three adults at all parks except for Lake Havasu, Cattail Cove, Buckskin Mountain, and River Island. The Premium pass ($200/year) allows day-use access at all parks for you and up to three adults.
As far as lakeside parks go, this one in western Arizona has no beach and not much shoreline hiking. But! It’s considered one of the best bass fishing lakes in the country. Anglers: Pack your gear and reserve one of the 15 full-service camping sites ($25/night) or cabins ($65/night) where the front porch makes for an ideal spot to spin yarns about the catch of the day.
Location: From Wenden, take Alamo Road 33 miles north to the park entrance
Anchoring the rugged Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, this park sprawls through the Coronado National Forest’s wild backcountry. Trails dotted with hikers, bikers, and horseback riders trace the spines of high-elevation ridges and snake through deep canyons. One challenging trek, the Sutherland Trail, navigates the steep slopes to deliver determined hikers to Mt. Lemmon, the highest peak of the Catalinas. Another trail climbs 80 steps up to the stone and adobe ruins of a Hohokam village from 500 A.D. In the 19th century, Francisco Romero built a ranch on the land likely using this same stone to fortify his home from the Apaches.
Location: 11570 N. Oracle Rd., Tucson
Fees: $7 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle
Birding isn’t for everyone, we get it. But more than 170 diverse species inhabit the park, so you’re bound to spot a winged creature worthy of mention, whether you intend to or not. The 1-mile Birding Trail offers an easy loop for ambling. Bonus points for the signage with bird facts.
The nearby Saguaro National Park boasts a lot (like, millions) of its namesake cactus, but Catalina is home to nearly 5,000 of them. Not too shabby. Throughout the state park, thick clusters of the mighty saguaro jut from the hillsides giving way to glittering city views of Tucson.
Over the years, the buildings at this park have served an oddball assortment of government agencies. Starting in 1864, the U.S. Army used them as a supply depot for forts in the Arizona Territory; later, the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Customs, and the U.S. Weather Service were all tenants. Today, the buildings maintain exhibits on the rich history of the Colorado River region including a research library open to professionals and curious members of the public.
Location: 201 N. Fourth Ave., Yuma
Fees: $6 per adult; $3 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free
Dead Horse Ranch State Park
Attention RV campers: More than 100 spacious sites ($20-$35/night) grace the grounds of this riverfront getaway in the Verde Valley. If you can’t snag a campsite or one of the park’s cabins, drive up for the hiking—nearly a dozen trails wind through the sprawling high desert environs along the Verde River.
Location: 675 Dead Horse Ranch Rd., Cottonwood
Fees: $7 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle
Jerome State Historic Park
This 2.5-acre property shows off the Douglas Mansion with its commanding views of the Verde Valley. James Douglas, owner of the Little Daisy copper mine, built it in 1916 as a hotel for mining investors. Today its luxurious rooms exhibit photographs and artifacts about Jerome’s mining history. But you can only look and browse—no overnighters.
Location: 100 Douglas Rd., Jerome
Fees: $7 per adult; $4 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free
Since the 1840s, many have claimed to know the location of the Peralta family’s lost gold mine in the Superstition Mountains but none of these would-be fortune-seekers became more famous than “the Dutchman” Jacob Waltz. The German prospector purportedly hid caches of the precious metal throughout the Superstition Wilderness. Fact or fiction, Waltz’s windfall gave the park its name. You might not find gold during your visit but other treasures include great hiking and biking trails and 138 RV camping sites (68 with electric and water) with sunset views.
Location: 6109 N. Apache Trail, Apache Junction
Fees: $7-10 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle
Patagonia Lake State Park
South of Sonoita, the blue waters of Patagonia Lake glisten for 265 acres. Unlike the craggy escarpments that border many desert lakes, here it’s all rounded corners and gentle slopes. The surrounding hills ease down to the tall grasses that line the shore. A trail meanders from the beach to Sonoita Creek which formed the lake when it was dammed. And a marina provides boat rentals: canoes, pontoons, rowboats, and paddleboats. In a former life, this land was the home of the Sobaipuri and Papago tribes, both related to the Pima Indians. Today, it’s the home away from home for campers, birders, swimmers, sunbathers, boaters, and anglers.
Location: 400 Patagonia Lake Rd., Patagonia
Fees: $15-20 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle
Where to Stay
You’ll find 105 developed RV campsites and 12 boat-in campsites at Patagonia Lake. Accessible by boat only, each comes with a picnic table and a fire pit and not much else—except for a remote spot with uninterrupted water views.
Picacho rises from the desert seemingly out of nowhere, its sharp buttes like lighthouses guiding travelers home. It wasn’t always a sight for road-weary eyes, though. In 1862, Confederate and Union soldiers clashed here in the Battle of Picacho Pass, a fight marked in history as the westernmost battle of the Civil War. These days during the spring, vibrant wildflowers carpet the ground; come winter, the challenging trails that ascend the sunny peaks draw thrill-seeking hikers.
Oak Creek runs for nearly 2 miles throughout this 286-acre state park, adorning the sandstone mesas and red boulders with leafy riparian habitats. If we’re judging Sedona hiking hot spots, it doesn’t get much better than the park’s juniper-studded trails and vortex-framed vistas. Red Rock State Park is one of the most ecologically diverse parks in Arizona which is why it makes sense that it serves as an environmental education hub. From the Visitor Center’s interactive exhibits and film presentations to guided nature walks and full moon hikes, programming offers insight into Sedona’s majestic landscape.
Location: 4050 Red Rock Loop Rd., Sedona
Fees: $7 per adult; $4 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free
When it comes to Arizona wildlife, you’ll see the usual suspects—javelina, mule deer, maybe a coyote—but to meet the cutest, most playful creatures ever, hike the Apache Fire Trail. It leads to Oak Creek where the resident river otters frolic. Cross Kingfisher Bridge to glimpse them below.
Before You Go
Due to the park’s popularity, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind before your visit. Of note: Most of the trails are off-limits to cyclists; there is no swimming or wading in Oak Creek; don’t climb the rocks; and keep your four-legged buddy at home.
Sonoita Creek State Natural Area
The perennial stream of Sonoita Creek feeds this natural area’s bounty of trees: cottonwood and willow, ash and walnut, mesquite and elderberry. Hike 20 miles of remote trails where you’ll likely encounter no one save for the dozens of species of dragonflies and butterflies. You’ll access the natural area by Patagonia Lake State Park.
Location: 400 Lake Patagonia Rd., Patagonia
Fees: $15-20 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle
Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park
Get to know Wyatt Earp. Stand in a reproduction of the gallows where convicted baddies met their demise. And learn all about the other gunfight at the OK Corral. The museum inside the courthouse exhibits interpretive displays on all of this and more including the history of Tombstone and Cochise County.
Location: 223 Toughnut St., Tombstone
Fees: $7 per adult; $2 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free
As part of the expansion of “New Spain” throughout Mexico and the Southwest, the Spanish Empire built Catholic missions along with forts, or presidios, to protect them. At Arizona’s first state park, dedicated in 1958, see the ruins of the oldest Spanish presidio in the state, San Ignacio de Tubac, established in 1752.
Location: 1 Burruel St., Tubac
Fees: $7 adult; $2 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free
This natural area’s raison d’être is preservation of the Verde River’s delicate riparian ecosystem, so although swimming, fishing, and hiking are allowed, a “light footprint” is encouraged. Connect with the riverside trails from Dead Horse Ranch State Park.
After 33 years housing hardened criminals, the Yuma Territorial Prison gained new life as Yuma Union High School in 1910. Cellblocks became classrooms and the hospital held assemblies. I’m sure there’s a joke to be made likening school to jail but the truth is the history of this prison is so darn fascinating. Take Pearl Hart, for example. In 1899, she chopped off her hair, donned men’s clothing and, armed with a revolver, robbed a stagecoach bound for Florence. She became a national media sensation for the crime and even though she was sentenced to five years in the all-male Yuma Prison she got out in two thanks to what’s politely been described as “deft use of her feminine wiles.” The prison’s preservation today is impressive; you’ll see the guard tower, original cellblocks, and a museum displaying artifacts and stories of notable convicts. Plus: Great gift shop.
Location: 220 N. Prison Hill Rd., Yuma
Fees: $7 per adult; $4 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free
To my mind these live oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near to being the cream of creation.
RV travel allows you to take the comforts of home on the road
January is a great time to travel and if you’re looking for someplace warm with ample sun there are some great destinations to consider especially for the RVing snowbird escaping the ravages of a Northern winter.
The bad news is COVID-19 has taken its toll on the tourism industry and as we head into winter, it’s now impacting snowbird travel. Canadian snowbirds won’t be flocking south this winter to escape the cold and snowy weather. With their wings clipped by border closures, Canadian snowbirds are trading in the golf clubs for snow shovels, preparing for the long Canadian winter ahead.
Naturally, RVers—and, in particular, Canadian snowbirds—are looking forward to the relaxation of these restrictions. But where are the most amazing places to RV this month?
Wildlife World Zoo Aquarium and Safari Park, Litchfield Park, Arizona
Wildlife World Zoo has Arizona’s largest collection of exotic and endangered animals with more than 600 separate species, rides, a petting zoo, and daily shows. Wildlife World Zoo is a 215-acre facility which specializes in African and South American animals. The Log Flume Ride surrounds three primate islands and takes riders past aquatic animals and through the Aquarium’s south pacific reef tunnel tank—the longest acrylic tunnel in Arizona—before splashing down three stories. With more than 75 indoor exhibits, the aquarium hosts sea life from sharks to stingrays to piranha and sea lions. Slow down and enjoy the view from high atop the Idearc Media Skyride. This round trip through the tree tops is approximately 15 minutes and will give you an unparalleled view of the park.
Stargazing at Stephen C. Foster State Park, Georgia
Pack your binoculars and head down south for blackwater and dark skies. This remote park is not only the primary entrance to one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders, the Okefenokee Swamp, but is also a certified “Dark Sky Park” by the International Dark Sky Association. With minimal light pollution, guests to Stephen C. Foster can experience some incredible stargazing. During the day, cruise through the black waters and cypress trees while watching alligators and wildlife cruise by. At night, when the day winds down, enjoy the serene sounds of nature and take in the light show above.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
Few landscapes warp the mind quite like Joshua Tree National Park, a lumpy, Seussian dreamscape that beguiles the imagination. There are a couple of ways to best explore the park, and both take place on foot: hiking to points of interest and rock climbing. A climbing mecca, there are 8,000 climbing routes in Joshua Tree. While the best hikes in Joshua Tree show off the best of the rock outcroppings especially at Arch Rock Nature Trail and Hidden Valley Nature Trail, the most interesting flora can be found while on the road. The Cholla Cactus Garden showcases one of the parks most peculiar and comical plant inhabitants and the Ocotillo Patch in the Pinto Basin ignites after rain when the 30-foot-tall ocotillo cactus blooms.
Crystal River, Florida
After months spent roaming the coast, the cooling temperatures of early autumn begin to drive manatees back to the rivers of Florida, packing the state with huge populations of these iconic mammals. Manatee viewing season peaks in the dead of winter, but those who get an early start can spot some of the year’s early movers without the hassle of huge crowds, providing an intimate viewing experience that’s tough to recreate once the season really kicks in. Your best bet for spotting manatees is Crystal River, an area rife with natural springs that create a safe haven for the gentle beasts with year-round populations calling the waterways home.
Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park, Arizona
Yuma is officially the sunniest place on earth so it must have been particularly torturous for those locked in the tiny, airless cells of Yuma Territorial Prison. The first prisoners, incarcerated in July 1876, were even made to build their own cells—during a searing Sonoran Desert summer. Though it was held up as a model example of a prison for its time, punishments were harsh by modern standards. Those who broke prison rules were kept in a dark, solitary cell while those who attempted to escape were attached to a ball and chain. The last prisoners were moved to new facilities in Florence in 1909 and now the buildings including adobe structures are part of Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park comprising a museum that gives a fascinating insight into 19th-century prison life. Visitors can peer into the iron-barred cells, some of which held six prisoners at a time and the stifling solitary chamber and view photographs of former inmates.
Texas Gulf Coast
Stretching some 350 miles from Beaumont and the Louisiana border all the way to South Padre Island and the Rio Grande Valley, this region is renowned for its wildlife and natural beauty as well as the home of America’s space program. You’re never far from the sand on this trip—from the Galveston Seawall through the bird-watching trails of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and South Padre Island beach life. There’s good food and good fun all the way down the curve of the Texas coast. Other highlights include Goose Island State Park, the beach towns of Rockport-Fulton and Port Aransas, and the waterfront city of Corpus Christi.
Naples is a city located along the southwestern Florida coast on the Gulf of Mexico. The city is known best for its high-end shops and world-class golfing. Naples Pier has become an icon of the city and is a popular spot for fishing and dolphin watching. On both sides of the pier you’ll find beautiful beaches with white sand and calm waves. At nearby Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary outdoor enthusiasts will find a gentle, pristine wilderness that dates back more than 500 years.
Golden Isles, Georgia
Although Georgia’s beaches are some of the biggest attractions for visitors to the Golden Isles, there are numerous other activities and events to enjoy during your stay in St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island, or Brunswick. The temperate climate and beautiful scenic backdrop provide ample opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. Quaint shopping boutiques, first-class dining experiences, unique attractions, and historical tours of the islands and mainland provide one-of-a-kind experiences that will make your trip unforgettable.
Dauphin Island, Alabama
A narrow, 14-mile-long outdoor playground near the mouth of Mobile Bay, Dauphin Island provides a getaway atmosphere with attractions aimed at the family. The Dauphin Island Park and Campground is a great place to enjoy all the island has to offer. The 155-acre park offers an abundance of exceptional recreation offerings and natural beauty. The campground is uniquely positioned so that guests have access to a secluded beach, public boat launches, Fort Gaines, and Audubon Bird Sanctuary. The campground offers 150 sites with 30/50 amp- electric service and water; 99 sites also offer sewer connections.
Avery Island, Louisiana
Lush subtropical flora and venerable live oaks draped with Spanish moss cover this geological oddity which is one of five “islands” rising above south Louisiana’s flat coastal marshes. The island occupies roughly 2,200 acres and sits atop a deposit of solid rock salt thought to be deeper than Mount Everest is high. Geologists believe this deposit is the remnant of a buried ancient seabed, pushed to the surface by the sheer weight of surrounding alluvial sediments. Today, Avery Island remains the home of the TABASCO brand pepper sauce factory as well as Jungle Gardens and its Bird City wildfowl refuge. The Tabasco factory and the gardens are open for tours.
We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.
Three locations with spooky histories and a mystical atmosphere
As the poet Sheryl Crow once said, “Everyday is a winding road.” While it feels the world is flipped upside-down, I am trying to keep Sheryl’s words alive in these times. I’m going for daily walks, finding new things to feel paranoid about, and I think I believe in aliens now.
RVing with Rex wants to keep your day feeling like a winding road. Today, it’s Halloween and everything ghostly! Just for today, look away from the Earth and into the ghost world clad in a white nightgown, holding a candle, and dragging chains through the moors of the mind.
The tradition originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints. Soon, All Saints Day incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve and later Halloween and initiates the season of Allhallowtide which lasts three days and concludes with All Souls’ Day. Over time, Halloween became largely nonreligious as it evolved into a day of activities like trick-or-treating, carving jack-o-lanterns, festive gatherings, donning costumes, and eating treats.
If you’re looking for a safe yet totally creepy way of ringing in Halloween why not try an out-of-the-box idea like a haunted road trip? Eerie drives through roads known for ghosts, apparitions, and mysterious disappearances aren’t exactly for the faint of heart but they could make for the most memorable Halloween ever. From a road that’s said to be home to a vanished Boy Scout troop to the street adjacent to Area 51 that’s known as “Extraterrestrial Highway,” America is full of winding highways and dark back roads that are spine-tingling and hair-raising.
Even if you’re not so sure about actually hitting the road and getting close to a few spirits, you can keep reading and live vicariously through three of the most haunted haunts in America. And if you do venture to any of these spots, just know it’s a surefire way of getting in the All Hallows’ Eve spirit.
For the Halloween season, celebrate the spooky environments that make both a great location for a ghost story and an excellent place to go camping. Nearly every horror film or scary book depends highly on a spooky environment. Pick out your favorite scary story and it likely takes place on a foggy coast, a dark lake, a swamp, a territorial prison, a ghost town, or in the dense woods.
While there are reasons why these places fill us with fear or dread, they can actually be pretty cool locations to camp. In addition, the folklore and spooky mythology surrounding these locations make for even better campfire stories.
Swamp folklore runs the gamut from voodoo practices to the Swamp Thing. This type of landscape is so difficult to maneuver through and contains creatures such as owls and alligators, so there is no wonder that they make great spooky stories. The Okefenokee Swamp between Georgia and Florida has inspired stories such as The Creature from the Black Lagoon and is said to be a hotbed for UFOs and ghosts. What some people may not realize is that these swamplands are really beautiful.
You can see the beauty at the Okefenokee Pastimes Cabins, RV Park & Campground in Folkston, Georgia. The park offers historic-style cabins for rent, pull-through sites with full hookups, private tent sites, and a day-use dog kennel. The campground even has a Starfield for their Saturday night stargazing events.
Arizona’s Wild West past and haunted history gives us reason to go hide under the covers. Ask yourself if you’d want to be locked up in anything called a “territorial prison” and then jump ahead a hundred years to haunting the hell out of the place—like 100+ inmates, you died inside those walls. Not one to shy from a locking people into hot, dark places, Arizona has designated Yuma Territorial Prison a state historical park—easily one of the creepiest in the nation, and one of the most haunted spots in Arizona.
Guides report feeling chills when they pass Cell 14, where an inmate doing time for “crimes against nature” killed himself. In the so-called dark cell, prisoners in pitch-black solitary went mad chained to ring-bolts in the walls.
Its whiskey spirits with a side of ghostly spirits at Buffalo Trace Distillery’s ghost tours. One of the biggest and best-known distilleries in Kentucky bourbon country, most visitors are unaware that Buffalo Trace has ghostly ties, let alone nighttime tours through the Stony Point Mansion.
Ghost tours are an hour long and take place at 7 p.m., led by guides who wax poetic on supernatural spirits said to frequent the grounds. The most notable is Colonel Blanton who died in the on-site Stony Point Mansion which feels like a real life version of the Clue board game. At the end of the ghostly portion of the tour, guests will get to taste a series of Buffalo Trace’s potable spirits.
Stay strong, be brave, and listen to Sheryl Crow, who also said, “I’m gonna soak up the sun/I got my 45 on/So I can rock on…” Is this relevant?
Have a great weekend!!
Werewolves howl. Phantoms prowl. Halloween’s upon us now
Yuma Territorial Prison is a living museum of the Old West
Sitting on a bluff overlooking the Colorado River, three
miles west of the confluence of the Colorado and the historic Gila River, stand
the ruins of Arizona’s famous Territorial Prison.
Fans of Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures know it
as “Hell Hole Prison” for the dark and twisted tales which linger
long after the last inmates occupied this first prison of the Arizona
Territory. For many others, the 1957 and 2007 films “3:10 to
Yuma” are what bring this “Hell Hole Prison” to mind.
On July 1, 1876, the first seven inmates entered the
Territorial Prison at Yuma and were locked into the new cells they had built
themselves. Thus began the legend of the Yuma Territorial Prison.
A total of 3,069 prisoners, including 29 women, lived within
the walls during the prison’s 33-year existence between 1876 and 1909. Their
crimes ranged from murder to polygamy with grand larceny being the most common.
A majority served only portions of their sentences due to the ease with which
paroles and pardons were obtained.
One hundred eleven persons died while serving their sentences,
most from tuberculosis, which was common throughout the territory. Of the many
prisoners who attempted escape, 26 were successful and eight died from gunshot
wounds. No executions took place at the prison because capital punishment was
administered by the county governments.
Despite an infamous reputation, the historical written
record indicates that the prison was humanely administered and was a model
institution for its time. The only punishments were the “dark cell”
for inmates who broke prison regulations, and the “ball and chain”
for those who tried to escape.
Prisoners had free time during which they hand-crafted many
items to be sold at public bazaars held at the prison on Sundays after church
services. Prisoners also had regular medical attention and access to a
Schooling was available for convicts, and many learned to
read and write. The prison housed one of the first “public” libraries
in the territory, and the fee charged to visitors for a tour of the institution
was used to purchase books. One of the early electrical generating plants in
the West furnished power for lights and ran a ventilation system in the cell
By 1907, the prison was severely overcrowded, and there was
no room on Prison Hill for expansion. Convicts constructed a new facility in
Florence, Arizona, and the last prisoner left Yuma on September 15, 1909.
Today, Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park is open,
welcoming convicts of another kind—those guilty of having a curiosity
for what it was like to work and live inside the prison walls.
The cells, main gate, and guard tower are still standing
providing visitors with a glimpse of convict life in the Southwest over a
An introductory exhibit is located in the Visitor Center
along with photographs and a video presentation. Outside buildings and features
include original cellblocks, water tank, guard tower, sally port (entrance
gate), library room, the dark cell, caliche hill, new yard, and cells.
Interpretive panels are situated throughout the historic site. A large mural
painting of Arizona Native Americans and scenery by a WWII Italian POW graces
one of the walls.
Turn yourself in for a fascinating experience, which
includes a look into “The Dark Cell” and a look back at the men AND
women who served hard time in Yuma. Parole included with the price of
And, you don’t have to wait until 3:10; the park is open
from 9 am -5 pm daily so stop in and take a walk through a big slice of the
history of the Old West.
Yuma Prison State Historic Park is situated on a bluff above
the Colorado River in Yuma. It is located at the Fourth Avenue exit south from
Interstate 8 (Exit 1). After crossing the Colorado River, the entrance to the
park is on the east side of Fourth Avenue.
Forecast for snow…sometime in the
future, but not today, and definitely not in YUMA! What a beautiful day!
Pleasant temperatures, plenty of sunshine, outdoor
recreation, tasty food, musical entertainment, local history, and natural
wonders make Yuma a popular destination for winter visitors.
Yuma is located near the confluence of the Gila and Colorado
Rivers in the southwest corner of Arizona, on the border with California and near
the border with Mexico.
Home to almost 100,000 residents, the population nearly doubles
with the arrival of sun-seeking snowbirds during the peak travel months of
January, February, and March.
We first visited Yuma in the late 1990s and found nothing to
hold our interest. The swap meets were cool. I like any swap meet I can find a
bargain and Old Town was beginning to hold promise. Otherwise I disliked Yuma.
Here was a desert town blessed with a river and you couldn’t
even find the river, just a place of overgrown brush and littered garbage. I
revisited Yuma a few years later and nothing changed. The town felt rundown and
having a trashy core seemed to impact everything.
Fair or not, I was done with Yuma.
Or so I thought. Eventually I thought I’d give Yuma another
And what a difference! The transformation was amazing. Where
there had been piles of garbage, there was a park. Where there had been a
tangle of overgrowth, there were lighted pathways, picnic tables, sandy
beaches, and groves of cottonwood trees.
The river existed. And it flowed right through the heart of
town. And I realized what had been missing. The Colorado River is more than a
waterway. It is the beating heart of Yuma.
Using La Quintas Oasis RV Resort as our home base we
recently spent a month exploring the Yuma area. Big-rig friendly, La Quintas
Oasis is a 55+ park with 460 sites. Easy-on easy-off (I-8; Exit 12 on North
Frontage Road) the park has wide paved streets. Pull-through sites are in the
70 foot range with ample space. Back-in sites are 60+ feet in length and 35
feet wide. La Quintas Oasis has a good feel and the neighbors are friendly.
Yuma has a rich history which dates back more than a
century, to the days of the Wild West where the streets were dusty and the
Colorado River flowed untamed. Whether you’re a history buff or have a curious
interest in how Yuma became the Gateway of the Great Southwest, we have a list
to lead you to some of the area’s top attractions.
The story of water and its impact on the people and land is
the key to understanding the history of Yuma. Sitting at the narrows of the
Lower Colorado River is the oldest city established on the river.
Today, Yuma has about 150 acres of public parkland along the
river, connected by miles of paved biking and walking paths, plus hundreds of
acres of easily accessible wildlife habitat just steps from downtown. Two
historic state parks—Colorado River and Yuma Territorial Prison—anchor the
historic North End while public and private investment has helped to spark
The catalyst for change was the creation of the Yuma
Crossing National Heritage Area, an independent nonprofit corporation
authorized as a federal heritage area by Congress in 2000.
The Colorado River State Historic Park (formerly Yuma Crossing State Historic Park) sits on the bank of the Colorado where river captains once sailed from the Gulf of California to unload supplies then kick up their heels in the bustling port of Yuma.
The park is the site of the U.S. Army Quartermaster Supply Depot, a supply house for the military posts in the Southwest. Ocean vessels brought supplies around the Baja Peninsula from California to Port Isabel, near the mouth of the Colorado. From there, cargo was loaded onto smaller steamships and brought upstream to Yuma. The depot operated from 1864 until 1883, when the arrival of the railroad made the long steamship route unnecessary.
Yuma’s storied history as a Colorado River crossing point is
only scratching the surface. It seems like we never run out of things to see
and do in Yuma. So let me state for the record. I was wrong. Yuma is truly a
remarkable and interesting town for snowbirds to explore. And I’m glad to be
back in Yuma.
Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a
change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.