A Dozen Amazing Spots to Visit with your RV during Winter

Winter wander lands

For RVers, the colder months provide opportunities to make the most of having a hotel on wheels. Make tracks in the snow to spots blanketed in white, follow fellow snowbirds to warmer shores, or simply enjoy the peace and quiet in places that are usually packed all summer long. Here are the best places to visit in your trailer, camper van, or motorhome during the winter. Be sure to check state travel advisories before you set out and please note that some sites may require advance booking.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

The curving, dipping dunes of White Sands look snowier than your average ski resort and you can even sled down them. But, with daytime winter temperatures averaging 60 degrees it doesn’t feel that way until the sun dips down and it’s chilly enough for a campfire. There’s no RV camping in the park but there are several spots nearby from basic dry camping at Holloman Lake near the dunes to Alamogordo and Las Cruces where sites have full hook-ups and fenced-in patios.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

What could possibly be more bizarrely beautiful than the teetering, towering hoodoo rock formations that rise like totems throughout Bryce Canyon National Park? Those same hoodoos speckled with bright white snow, that’s what. Misty mornings and pink skies make winter landscapes stunning. Several national park campsites with RV sites stay open and there are ranger-led snowshoe hikes too.

Historic Downtown Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yuma, Arizona

Prefer to give winter the cold shoulder? Make tracks for Yuma. The Sonoran Desert city can be unbearably hot in summer but its balmy winters are ideal. Yuma is the ideal city to visit for the winter season. Known as the Sunniest City on Earth, Yuma offers temperate winter weather, perfect for snowbirds to escape the snow and freezing temperatures up North. With sunny skies 91 percent of the year, Yuma is a premiere winter travel destination for those seeking a small town feel with big city amenities.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Temperatures can reach the high 60s here in winter which is much more pleasant than the often sweltering, throat-tightening summer heat. And the longer nights are a blessing in an area famed for its star-scattered dark skies. Snag a space at one of the designated camping areas like Jumbo Rocks and prepare to gaze upwards for hours. It can be chilly at night though that just means you can huddle around a campfire.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Padre Island, Texas

The weather on Padre Island near Corpus Christi stays sunny and warm even in winter and your neighbors are more likely to be chilled-out snowbirds escaping the cold than rowdy spring break crowds looking for thrills. Nab a spot at one of several RV parks then revel in the fact you can still feel warm breezes, comb beaches for shells, and watch spectacular sunsets (without catching a chill) in January or February.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs, California

Palm Springs is one of those places that look awfully good to an awful lot of people at this time of year. And the weather is not its only calling card. In Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells, Indio, and the other desert resort cities in the Coachella Valley, you can camp for the winter in luxurious RV resorts that offer all sorts of amenities. Known for Olympic sized pools, tennis courts, and over one hundred world-class golf courses within 40 miles, this is truly upscale RV living.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The king of canyons is best viewed in peace and solitude—something that’s hard to achieve in peak season. Brave the chill and take your RV here when the mercury drops, the crowds drift away and the undulating rock formations look even more incredible. You can also view elk and deer which are more active on cooler days. Only the South Rim stays open in winter with several RV sites available.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Nestled along the banks of the slow-rolling Bayou Teche, Breaux Bridge, the “Crawfish Capital of the World,” is a gorgeous historic town with world-class restaurants and a thriving Cajun music and folk art scene. Breaux Bridge is a great place to stop off for a meal and an afternoon of antiquing and an even better place to camp at a local RV park and stay awhile. The bridge itself isn’t much to see (though you can’t miss it)—it’s a tall, slightly rusty metal drawbridge that spans the Teche (pronounced “tesh”). The downtown stretch of Bridge Street, though, is adorable. Antique shops, boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants span several blocks.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

This sprawling 600,000-acre state park between San Diego and Palm Springs has appeared in fewer movies than spotlight-hogging Joshua Tree National Park but manages equal levels of awe. While known for its trippy metal sculptures of dinosaurs and other strange creatures, the park has so much more to offer than a cool Instagram backdrop. Observe desert bighorn sheep, hike the Palm Canyon, and, when you get tired, head back to your camping site and revel in some of the country’s most mind-blowing stars in the night skies.

Salton Sea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Slab City—an off-the-grid community that’s flush with eccentric desert art and even more eccentric characters—always makes for an interesting stopover. Be sure to check out man-made Salvation Mountain and wander the eerily beautiful Bombay Beach on the shores of the Salton Sea while you’re here.

Gulf Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf Shores, Alabama

Prefer snow-white sand to snow-white snow? Alabama’s Gulf Coast stays pretty mild and sunny all year-round making it a favorite spot for those escaping frigid winters and is now reopening after suffering damage during Hurricane Sally. There are those beaches, of course, and the area also has wetlands with trails, kayaking, and birdwatching. After a day of activities, wind down in one of the fun, quirky bars or seafood restaurants which serve the region’s prized Royal Red shrimp.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Creole Nature Trail All-American Road, Louisiana

Starting on the outskirts of Lake Charles and ending at the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road is a network of byways where you’ll find more than 400 bird species, alligators galore, and 26 miles of Gulf of Mexico beaches. Also called “America’s Outback,” the Creole Nature Trail takes visitors through 180 miles of southwest Louisiana’s backroads. You’ll pass through small fishing villages, National Wildlife Refuges to reach the little-visited, remote Holly and Cameron beaches. Take a side trip down to Sabine Lake, or drive onto a ferry that takes visitors across Calcasieu Pass. Throughout the trip, expect to see exotic birds; this area is part of the migratory Mississippi Flyway. 

Ajo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ajo, Arizona

With its rich tradition as a former copper mining hub, Ajo is a casual town with relaxed charm. Enjoy its mild climate, low humidity, and clear skies. Take in the historic Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in the Downtown Historic District, Sonoran Desert flora and fauna, and panoramic views. Ajo is surrounded by 12 million acres of public and tribal land waiting to be explored. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge offer expansive hiking, camping, and birding places.

Worth Pondering…

May the joy of today, bring forth happiness for tomorrow—and may the cold Alberta air stay up north!

Of Yuman Interest: Top 7 Attractions In and Around Yuma

You will find it all in Yuma

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.

Yuma Territorial Prison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Colorado River Crossing at Gateway Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Sanguinetti House Museum and Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

1907 Baldwin locomotive at Pivot Point © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Cloud Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Historic Old Town Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Martha’s Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

The Peanut Patch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Worth Pondering…

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.

—Henry Miller

The Yuma Crossing

Discover Yuma’s storied history as a Colorado River crossing point

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.

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is located on a portion of the grounds of the old U.S. Army Quartermaster Depot established in 1864. This site is significant in the history of the Arizona Territory. The City of Yuma, through an Intergovernmental Agreement, supports operational costs at this Park. The purpose of the Park is to protect its historic structures and interpret the diverse history of the site.

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many of the original structures from that time are still standing. Made of adobe, essentially mud and plant material, they have survived well in Yuma’s dry climate. In fact, since their original construction, the buildings have been used by the Weather Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Signal Corps, the Border Survey, and the Yuma County Water Users Association as recently as the late 1980s.

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colorado River State Historic Park tells the history of the Crossing from prehistoric times until the present set in the backdrop of the old Quartermaster’s Depot. The area is also recognized as a key location in the cultural development of western history by the National Endowment for the Arts. Through the eyes of the Native Americans, entrepreneurs, steamboat captains, fortune seekers, and the military, it answers the questions of how the early emigrants survived or failed, living in one of the most rugged and isolated places in the world.

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hernando de Alarcon, who accompanied Coronado on his search for the Seven Cities of Cibola, passed this site in 1540. Padre Kino saw the present location of the Quartermaster’s Depot in 1683, and Padre Graces established a mission directly across the river and was later killed there by the Indians in 1781.

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yuma began to experience the American westward surge when countless immigrants crossed by ferry from Yuma on their way to the California gold fields in 1849. In 1850, a military post was established at Yuma, and when rich placer gold strikes on the Colorado River precipitated a gold rush in 1858, Yuma experienced a boom. In 1871 Yuma incorporated and became the county seat of Yuma County.

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Major William B. Hooper established the Quartermaster Depot on a high bluff overlooking the Colorado River. Supplies were brought from California by ocean-going vessels traveling around the tip of the Baja Peninsula and then north as far as the mouth of the Colorado River.

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At this point supplies were transferred to river steamboats and brought up river to the Quartermaster Depot which served as a storage yard and a military supply center for fourteen military posts in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Southern Utah, and West Texas. The Depot maintained a six months’ supply of ammunition, clothing, and food at all times.

The depot operated from 1864 until 1883, when the arrival of the railroad made the long steamship route unnecessary.

Today, Colorado River State Historic Park preserves the history of the facility while providing additional information about Yuma as a Colorado River community and the engineering behind one of its impressive canal systems.

Back In Time, Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While visiting the park we found Back in Time, a delightful little pie shop and tea room tucked away in one of the buildings. We bought a whole pecan pie to enjoy back in the motorhome. The pie was incredible with an amazingly flakey crust. Sandwiches, a mixed greens salad, and three tier tea service are also available. The lady that runs the shop is very friendly and helpful, not to mention that she is also an excellent cook!

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

—René Descartes

Yuman Nature

Food tours enhance any visit to Yuma

Because Yuma is located near the confluence of the Gila and Colorado rivers in the southwest corner of the state, it’s no surprise that Yuma County’s top industry is agriculture. In fact, the agriculture industry in Yuma County represents an annual gross economic return of $3.2 billion, or more than one-third of Arizona’s annual total of $9.2 billion.

Date grove near Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Several factors account for that amazing total: Plentiful sunshine, ample labor, and high-quality irrigation water. The area also has fertile soil from sediment deposited by the Colorado River over millions of years.

Date grove near Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit Yuma, the local visitor center, offers four specialty tours for a farm-to-table experience. A local grower leads Field to Feast Tours at the University of Arizona research farm. Participants are given a list of ingredients needed for lunch and sent out into the field to pick them. Culinary students from Arizona Western College then use these fresh veggies to make lunch.

Date grove and winter lettuce field near Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other popular foodie tours include Date Night Dinners served in a date grove where every course features the “fruit of kings”, Savor Yuma a progressive dinner that stops at three local restaurants, and Farmer’s Wife Dinners which celebrates fresh produce and farming traditions. If you want to go, book early.

Martha’s Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since Yuma is one of the world’s top producers of gourmet Medjool dates, we took a tour at Martha’s Gardens. In 1990, Nels and Martha Rogers bought a parcel of previously unused desert, cleared the land, drilled wells, and installed a drip irrigation system.

Martha’s Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The original planting of 300 Medjool date palm offshoots thrived. Today the farm has around 8,000 palms. Only 250 of the trees are males since it’s the females that produce the fruit. The labor-intensive process of date farming includes hand pollination of female trees with pollen from male trees.

After the tour ended, we returned to the farm store for a delicious date milkshake, and we simply had to purchase a box of jumbo dates.

Martha’s Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Date production in the Yuma area now totals about 10 million pounds a year, a $30 to $35 million dollar industry that employs more than 2,000 people annually.

The date is one of the oldest cultivated tree crops with records showing that in Mesopotamia it was cultivated more than 5,000 years ago. This valuable food helped sustain desert peoples and nomadic wanderers of the Middle East and North Africa.

Martha’s Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The date was introduced to the western hemisphere by Spanish missionaries who planted date seeds around the missions in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. A few of the original palms or their offshoots (suckers growing from the base of the female palm) are still found in Southern California and Mexico. There were many varieties imported in the following years but the most significant was the Medjool date.

Imperial Date Gardens in Bard Valley near Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Medjool originates in Morocco. Because of a disease outbreak in Morocco, eleven Medjool offshoots were imported in 1927 by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). To be sure they were disease-free the trees were placed in quarantine for seven years in the state of Nevada. Nine plants survived and in 1935 they were removed and planted at the USDA date section in Indio, California. After several more years, offshoots from those were removed and distributed to a few growers. Five or more years later, quality Mejools were harvested.

Imperial Date Gardens in Bard Valley near Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Twenty-four offshoots of those original trees were planted in the Bard Valley in 1944 by Stanley Dillman, date pioneer in the region.

Thanks to ideal soil and weather, the area around Yuma and Bard is now one of the world’s largest producers of premium-quality Medjools. Dates are harvested from the end of August through the first weeks of October. Each date palm must be climbed approximately 16-18 times a year to carry out hand operations necessary to ensure a good crop including pollination, thinning, separating strands of fruit with metal rings to help the air circulate and finally, bagging the date bunches.

Yuma Date Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dates are high in fiber, potassium, and anti-oxidants and contain no fat. They are an organic product as no pesticides or chemicals are used on the trees or the dates. Many date confections are made locally, along with a local favorite: Dates shakes, or milkshakes made with ice cream and dates. The indescribable joy of a good date shake!

Worth Pondering…

Products from the soil are still the greatest industry in the world.

—Dick Cooper, 1966

Rediscovering the River: Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area

Discover Yuma’s storied history as a Colorado River crossing point

We first visited Yuma in the late 1990s and found little to hold our interest.

Gateway Park, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here was a desert town blessed with a river and you couldn’t find it, just a place of overgrown brush and littered garbage. We revisited Yuma a few years later and nothing changed. The town felt rundown and having a trashy core seemed to impact everything.

Eventually we thought we’d give Yuma another try.

East Wetlands, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What a difference! We were amazed at the transformation. 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.

Colorado River State Historic Park, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Gateway Park, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since we wanted to see this transformation up close we visited the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area and wandered the Pivot Point Interpretive Plaza, Gateway Park, and West Wetlands before crossing the river on 4th Avenue.

Gateway Park, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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, we found a revitalized park adorned with plaques detailing the railroad, the nearby tribal communities, and river history.

Pivot Point Plaza, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can climb into the cab (but please not on top of it). With 16 colorful panels describing how people crossed the mighty Colorado River in Yuma over the centuries, the plaza provides an excellent introduction to the history of Yuma Crossing, a National Historic Landmark.

Sunrise Point Park, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It also preserves the concrete pivot on which the original swing-span bridge turned to allow steamships to pass on the river—which before dams were built and water was diverted to Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Las Vegas—came up to the level of the plaza. A staircase from the plaza leads into Gateway Park.

Gateway Park, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gateway Park is Yuma’s downtown riverfront park. With convenient vehicle access of Gila Street and shaded parking under Interstate 8, Gateway Park has a large beach, picnic armadas close to the water, restrooms, playground, and large stretches of tree-covered lawns. It is located at the center of the riverfront multi-use pathways with a magnificent view of the historic Ocean-to-Ocean Highway Bridge.

West Wetlands, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The West Wetlands was the original site of Yuma’s “City Dump”. It closed in 1970 and Yumans dreamed of converting these 110 blighted acres into a beautiful riverfront park. Today these dreams are becoming a reality. With local, state, and federal financial support, the first phase of the park opened in 2002, including the lake, picnic armadas, boat ramp, restrooms, parking, and picnic areas. Each year since, more and more features have been added including the Ed Pastor Hummingbird Garden, a lighted multi-use pathway, Army of the West statue, a disc golf course, and the Stewart Vincent Wolf Memorial Playground, that kids love to call “Castle Park”.

East Wetlands, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another day we visited the East Wetlands and Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park, drove over the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge, and wandered the Sunrise Point Park (part of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area).

East Wetlands, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Through a unique partnership among the Quechan Indian Tribe, City of Yuma, Arizona Fish and Game Department, and the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, more than 200,000 native species of trees and grasses have been planted over its 400 acres since 2004. On the south side of the Colorado River, there is a 3.5-mile signed hiking trail. For those interested in a shorter walk, there is a beautiful overlook along the river about one-half mile upstream from Gateway Park affording a 360-degree view of the wetlands. Part of the paved riverfront path extends along the edge of the Yuma East Wetlands on a canal levee.

Quechan Indian Museum, Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the north side of the river, the Quechan Indian Tribe has developed Sunrise Point Park (Anya Nitz Pak), overlooking a restored marsh and 40 acres of the finest stands of native cottonwoods and willows along the lower Colorado River. The park is reflective of the tribe’s culture.

Worth Pondering…

The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings.

—Okakura Kazuko

The Beating Heart of Yuma

Discovering the beating heart of Yuma

I did not like Yuma in the least.

We first showed up here in the late 1990s and found nothing to hold our interest. We had a hard time finding our way to the banks of the Colorado River—even though it was the river that put Yuma on the map.

Colorado River in Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here was a desert town blessed with a river and you couldn’t even find the river, just a dumpsite. 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.

Yuma East Wetlands © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or so I thought. Eventually I thought I’d give Yuma another try.

OMG! What a difference. The transformation amazed me. 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.

Gateway Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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!

West Wetlands Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 downtown development.

Yuma Territorial Prison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Native American tribes to Spanish explorers to gold-seekers, travelers found their way to Yuma for hundreds of years because this was the safest place to cross the mighty Colorado before dams tamed it.

Yuma East Wetlands © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But as Yuma exploded in the mid-20th century, it turned its back to the river. With 90 percent of the water diverted further upstream and its banks overgrown with invasive vegetation, the Colorado River was a shadow of its former self as was Yuma’s historic downtown. The closing of the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway Bridge in 1988 could have been the death knell for both.

Yuma Historic Downtown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But a dedicated group of Yumans was determined to reconnect the community to its literal lifeline. Despite fits and starts they had a vision for this desert town to “rediscover the river” —and through it, Yuma’s historic roots.

Pivot Point Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 result has been an investment of nearly $100 million in Yuma’s riverfront over the last 18 years. That includes about $40 million from the feds, state, city, and foundations plus $30 million in private investment for construction of the Hilton Garden Inn and Pivot Point Conference Center.

Yuma Gateway Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Historic significance aside, all that investment and hard work has also yielded numerous ways to discover the Colorado River and the Yuma Crossing. Here are a few suggestions to add to your Yuma bucket list:

  • Pedal away – Explore paved trails along the river and East Main Canal
  • Take a dip – Make a splash at three beaches (one at Gateway, two at West Wetlands)
  • Go fish – Drop a line at the West Wetlands pond, along the river, or in the back channel through the East Wetlands
  • Linger and learn – Get a capsule lesson in local history at Pivot Point Plaza
  • Bird’s eye view – Wildlife watching opportunities abound along the river
  • Tip your hat – Leaders of Yuma’s riverfront revival are recognized at Founders’ Plaza at Yuma Quartermaster Depot
  • Get the big picture – Enjoy a panoramic view atop the guard tower at the Territorial Prison
Yuma Gateway Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Yuma Gateway Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.

—Anita Desai

Spooktacular Goodies

Local history plus spooks equals great fun

Most everywhere has its spooky spots, whether an annual haunted attraction, a legitimately haunted place, or just an uncomfortably eerie spot.

Yuma Territorial Prison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And now, RIGHT NOW, it’s the season to go and find ‘em! Old mental hospitals, valleys filled by ghostly sounds, theme park fright houses, historic hotels and mansions—no matter how you scare, there are places to freak you out.

Here are a few of the most haunted places and best spots to live the scary story you’ve waited all year to experience.

Yuma Territorial Prison, Yuma, Arizona

Yuma Territorial Prison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yuma Territorial Prison’s population was made up of thieves, murderers, and the occasional polygamist, and over 111 inmates died here, making it one of the more ghoulish state parks in Arizona. To this day, guides at the park report feeling a “cold chill” when passing by Cell 14—where John Ryan, imprisoned for “crimes against nature,” committed suicide.

The Dark Cell, Yuma Territorial Prison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even more unnerving is The Dark Cell, which is exactly what it sounds like: a dark crypt where rowdy convicts were sent for acting up. Accounts cite that two inmates, who were literally chained to ring-bolts up here, had to be urgently transferred an insane asylum upon their release from isolation.

Yuma Territorial Prison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More recently, one reporter tried to spend two days in the Dark Cell. She didn’t make it past 37 hours, and cited she felt she wasn’t the only one in the chamber.

Galveston, Texas

Ashton Villa, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston Island’s ghostly history makes it one of the top destinations in the country for spooky travel, from a haunted historic hotel to the island’s storied harbor, cemeteries, and Victorian mansions. Here, visitors can get spooked by the numerous ghost stories that stem from the country’s deadliest natural disaster and other tragedies.

Moody Mansion, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors to 1895 Moody Mansion have reported disembodied footsteps and apparitions which have shown up in photographs.

Bishop’s Palace, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Miss Bettie, daughter of the historic Ashton Villa’s first owner James Moreau Brown, is rumored to have haunted the house since its 1975 restoration. Her apparition has been seen in a long turquoise dress on the second-floor landing. Her pianist sister may be here too, some say, because the piano in the Gold Room has been known to play by itself.

Bisbee, Arizona

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Delve deep into Arizona’s mining past in Bisbee, a town of colorful architecture and equally colorful characters, and a ghost or two—many of the town’s locales are rumored to be haunted.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are reportedly three resident ghosts in the Copper Queen Hotel.

One ghost, and perhaps the most famous, is that of a woman in her thirties by the name of Julia Lowell. It is said that she was a prostitute and she used the hotel for her and her clients. She fell madly in love with one of her clients and when she told him this he no longer wanted to see her. She took her own life at the hotel.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guests and staff at the hotel say that they feel her presence on the second and third floors of the west side of the building. Male staff and guests have reported hearing a female voice whispering in their ear. Others have also reported seeing her dancing provocatively at the foot of the stairs. She likes to play with men’s feet. As a tribute to her, one of the rooms in the hotel is named the Julia Lowell room.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe is one of the few cities that offer a full schedule of “ghost tours” and “ghost walks” year around, with as many as five operators conducting tours from Santa Fe’s historic plaza. These tours primarily focus on the ten block historic area of Santa Fe, featuring such places as the Grant Corner Inn, Palace of Governors, historic buildings including the oldest house in the nation, and the La Posada and La Fonda Hotels.

La Fonda, Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some tours also include area superstitions, as well as Santa Fe’s history of vigilantes, gunfights, murders, and hangings.

Worth Pondering…

I’m just a ghost in this house
I’m shadow upon these walls,
As quietly as a mouse
I haunt these halls.

—Allison Krauss, Ghost in This House

The “3:10 to Yuma” Stops Here

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.

Yuma Territorial Prison sally port (entrance gate) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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.

Yuma Territorial Prison visitor center interpretive panel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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.

Yuma Territorial Prison showing a row of inmate cells © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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.

Yuma Territorial Prison Dark Cell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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 hospital.

Looking inside a prisoners cell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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 blocks.

Yuma Territorial Prison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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.

Yuma Territorial Prison cells © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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.

Yuma Territorial Prison cell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The cells, main gate, and guard tower are still standing providing visitors with a glimpse of convict life in the Southwest over a century ago.

Yuma Territorial Prison visitor center exhibit © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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.

Yuma Territorial Prison visitor center exhibit © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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 admission.

Yuma Territorial Prison visitor center and Ocean-to-Ocean bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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 Territorial Prison grounds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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.

Worth Pondering…

Forecast for snow…sometime in the future, but not today, and definitely not in YUMA! What a beautiful day!

Stay Warm This Winter in these Unique Towns in the American Southwest

Escape winter and stay warm this winter in the American Southwest

One of the perks about having a home-on-wheels is the freedom to head south for year-round sunshine.

The American Southwest draws in thousands of snowbirds every year for good reason: the daytime temperatures stay pleasantly warm all winter and there is tons to see and do.

Stay warm this winter in these unique towns across the southwestern U.S.

Ajo, Arizona

Ajo Historic Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Ajo is less than an hour from the Mexican border in Southern Arizona. It’s also the closest town to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument where you can see the unique organ pipe cactus with their many long, prickly arms.

Be sure to drive the 10.4-mile Ajo Scenic Loop through an historic section of Ajo, then through a wonderland of saguaro, organ pipe, and other diverse cacti and Sonoran Desert vegetation.

Driving the Ajo Scenic Loop © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Ajo’s reason to be is the massive open-pit New Cornelia copper mine. This inactive mine just outside of the town measures about one and a half miles across at its widest point and 1,100 feet deep at the center. There is a lookout where you can stop and get views of the mine, as well as a museum where you can learn more about the history.

New Cornelia Mine © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

There are numerous RV parks and campgrounds in the Ajo area including the popular Ajo Heights RV Park. You can also dry camp at Twin Peaks Campground at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Numerous sites are suitable for big rigs.

Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

Elephant Butte State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Truth or Consequences was originally named Hot Springs but was later renamed after the title of a popular game show. Despite the name change, the town is still a relaxing hot springs destination with thermal water that flows out of a rift along the Rio Grande River.

Riverbend Hot Springs is the only springs actually located along the river within the town’s hot springs district. They have lodging available or you can stay in one of the area’s many RV parks or nearby Elephant Butte State Park.

Yuma, Arizona

Historic Old Town Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Yuma in southwestern Arizona holds the record for the sunniest city on Earth. The town averages about 308 sunny days every year, compared the US average of only 205.

Yuma Territorial Prison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

One of the most interesting things to do in town is tour the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park. The first seven inmates in this former prison were locked into jail cells that they built for themselves.

You can now walk through the old cells, the solitary chamber, the guard tower, and around the grounds, as well as see photographs and exhibits on the prison’s history.

Yuma East Wetlands © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Yuma has a large number of RV parks and resorts, including many specifically for those 55 and older. Most parks are conveniently located along Interstate 8.

Bisbee, Arizona

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Bisbee is a quaint historic town in the Mule Mountains of southeastern Arizona. It was originally founded as a mining town, and still maintains many old buildings that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The town is filled with local shops, galleries, and several informative museums where you can learn more about the area’s mining history. There is also an historic mine that you can still tour underground in a hard hat, headlamp, and yellow slicker.

Queen Mine RV Park has full hookup RV sites within walking distance of the old mine tours. If you’re not bringing the RV, stay in one of Shady Dell’s uniquely decorated vintage trailers.

Queen Mine © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Wherever you decide to escape winter, you’ll share one thing in common with all your neighbors. Every one of them has learned that suffering through cold seasons is optional. The endless summer is far more appealing—and doable in these popular winter RV destinations.

Worth Pondering…

We have chosen to be reasonably warm year-round, so we are snowbirds. Every year when I hear the honks of the Canada geese overhead at our home in Alberta, something in my genes starts pulling my inner-compass to the South. And an inner voice whispers: “Surely you’re as smart as a goose.” Feeling that I am at least as smart as a silly goose, I line up the motorhome with that compass pointer and head for the Sun Belt.

Yuma: A River Runs Through It

Agriculture is Yuma County’s number one industry

Pleasant temperatures, plenty of sunshine, outdoor recreation, tasty food, local history, and natural and man-made wonders make Yuma a popular destination for winter visitors.

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.

The Colorado River supplies the needed water to sustain the more than 175 crops grown in the Yuma area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Because most people think of Arizona as a big, dusty desert, many are surprised to learn that agriculture is Yuma County’s number one industry—and that Yuma grows more than 90 percent of the country’s leafy vegetables from November through March.

In fact, the agriculture industry in Yuma County represents an annual gross economic return of $3.2 billion, or more than one-third of Arizona’s annual total of $9.2 billion.

Yuma is the winter lettuce capital of America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

With mild winters, little danger of hard frost and more than 350 days of sunshine a year, Yuma County enjoys the longest growing season in the country. And while the winter is notable for the emerald and ruby patchwork formed by vast vegetable fields, something is either growing or happening in Yuma County fields even during the hottest months of the year.

One reason is the fields—sediments deposited by the Colorado River over millions of years—have some of the most fertile soil in the country.

Yuma County ranks number one in Arizona for lemon, tangelo, and tangerine production in Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

But with less than three inches of rainfall annually, water was the missing component, though the mighty Colorado flowed nearby. The Bureau of Reclamation’s first big water project in the West gave nature a hand, with construction of the first dam on the Colorado and completion of the Yuma Siphon—delivering water through a huge tunnel built under the riverbed—in 1912, the same year Arizona became a state.

Now, of the 230,000 acres of land utilized for agriculture in Yuma County, 100 per cent are irrigated with Colorado River water delivered by one of the county’s seven irrigation districts. Every field in the county is also laser-leveled and graded using GPS technology, making Yuma’s irrigation network one of the most efficient in the world.

Winter is the peak growing season for lettuce, cabbage, and numerous other crops in the Yuma area. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

All this has made Yuma County first in the state—and THIRD IN THE NATION—for vegetable production.

To put this in perspective, the Yuma area is home to nine salad plants that produce bagged lettuce and salad mixes. During peak production months, each of those plants processes more than two million pounds of lettuce per day.

There are also 23 cooling plants in the Yuma area, where powerful refrigeration units bring truck-sized loads of vegetables from field to shipping temperatures in less than half an hour. Crops harvested here in the morning can be in Phoenix by afternoon and on the East Coast in three to four days.

The Peanut Patch is nuts for you. Stop for a visit. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

But lettuce is just part of the story: More than 175 different crops are grown in the Yuma area, including many grown to seed here because of the perfect growing conditions. For example, Yuma County ranks number one in Arizona for lemon, tangelo, and tangerine production, and for watermelons and cantaloupes; a local cattle company usually has more than 120,000 head of beef cows on its lot.

There also are more than 40,000 acres of wheat grown in this region. Desert durum comprises about 95 percent of Arizona’s wheat crop, with two-thirds of that exported— mainly to Italy for use in making premium pasta.

Yuma growers also grow kosher wheat used by Orthodox Jews to bake matzo (or matzoh), the unleavened bread wafers that are eaten at Passover. Because the rules for kosher production include that the wheat not receive moisture immediately prior to harvest, Yuma’s desert conditions and controlled irrigation make it a perfect spot to grow this specialty crop.

The Yuma area is one of the largest date producing areas outside of the Middle East © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Dates are another local crop with Biblical roots. Date production in the Yuma area now totals about 10 million pounds a year, a $30 to $35 million dollar industry that employs more than 2,000 people annually.

Martha’s Gardens is our go-to places for fresh medjool dates and date shakes in the Yuma area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The date is one of the oldest tree crops with records showing that in Mesopotamia it was cultivated more than 5,000 years ago. This valuable food helped sustain desert peoples and nomadic wanderers of the Middle East and North Africa.

Dates are high in fiber, potassium, and anti-oxidants and contain no fat. They are an organic product, as no pesticides or chemicals are used on the trees or the dates. Many date confections are made locally including my favorite: Dates shakes, or milkshakes made with ice cream and dates. The indescribable joy of a good date shake!

Oh, the undescribable joy of a date shake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

Products from the soil are still the greatest industry in the world.

—Dick Cooper, 1966