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Center of the World Museum, Felicity, CA

101_0228Louise Speaks:  The last time we were in Yuma, Thelma and I had stopped here before when looking for small churches.  We weren’t interested at the time so we didn’t pay the $5.00 admission to see the inside.  However, when looking for things to do on this RV trip, I started researching what was in the area.  Turns out this museum has more to offer than we thought.  Although Yuma is in Arizona, this museum is less than 10 miles across the border into California.

Jacques-Andre Istel has officially established the Center of the World here, and he has built a town around it to bolster his claim.  He’s the mayor. That’s his signature on the official certificate you receive for standing at the Center of the World.  Mayor Istel is a gracious, well-mannered man with a vision. Maybe a crazy vision, but a vision nonetheless, steadily becoming reality. Let me explain how this whole thing started.  Jacques-Andre saw this barren wasteland of desert while serving as a Marine in the Korean War.  He fell in love with it, and, with money made from his successful parachute schools business, bought thousands of acres stretching from I-8 northward to the Chocolate Mountains.  He told his wife, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do with this bare land, but it has to be entertaining’.”  It wasn’t until the 1980s that he finally found an idea that peaked his interest, one that has now left a permanent impression on the landscape.101_0229
cafelcenter_grab2First, Jacques-Andre wrote a children’s book which helped convince Imperial County, California, to legally recognize a spot on his property as the official Center of the World,  It is also recognized as such by the Institute Geographic National of France.  Next, he had the town of Felicity incorporated, naming it after his wife, Felicia Lee.  According to our guide, it’s the first town in America named for a Chinese lady.  Felicity means ‘ happiness, culture.  An election was held, and Jacques-Andre became the first, and thus far the  only mayor of Felicity by a unanimous vote of 3 to 0.  Mayor Istel told us, in case you were wondering, that a justice of the peace and chairman of the Imperial County Board of Supervisors recognized a vote by the invisible dragon in Istel’s book as legal for only once in California history. The Mayor  needed a way to mark his Center.  Felicia had the idea: “It’s in the desert, why not a pyramid?” Jacques-Andre was delighted, and had a 21-foot-tall, hollow, mirror-lined, pink granite pyramid built over The Spot, which is a dot in the center of a bronze disk set into the pyramid’s floor. Placing your toe on the spot is an occasion for ceremony in Felicity, with a town official recording the exact moment on your certificate and ordering you to make an obligatory wish.  You must pay an additional $2.00 to enter the pyramid and to receive the certificate.  One by one you place your foot on the dot in the center of the medallion and make your wish.  As you do so, the pyramid doors are open facing the church on the hill (to be talked about later).  As you face the church, make your  wish, your guide records the exact time and hands you  your certificate.  101_0239
101_0236The Mayor next decided to build a church for his town but first he needed a hilltop to build it on.  Jacques stated he wasn’t  particularly religious, but if you’re going to build a House of God, it’s got to be on the highest spot.  Jacques-Andre had 150,000 tons of earth trucked in and piled up into what he calls the Hill of Prayer.  The hill has been engineered to earthquake Zone 4 specifications.  On January, 2002, on the top of the hill Jacques built what he calls The Church on the Hill at Felicity, which is modeled after one that he likes in Brittany.  With blazing white, windowless walls and an aquamarine door, the church stands out against the otherwise dun-colored landscape.  Jacques-Andre had it dedicated to St. Felicity.  It was dedicated by Protestant and Catholic clergy in 2008.
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101_0234As if these two attractions isn’t enough, Jacques has decided to add  more entertainment. 101_0243The Center of the World has become “the central point for memories” for Jacques-Andre’s latest, and longest running and most serious project. He calls it The World Commemorative Center at Felicity.  What he has done, is that on a series of two-inch-thick granite walls,  long, two-sided wedges , Jacques-Andre is having inscribed everything that he thinks is worth telling future generations.  Phase One consists of a hundred monuments stretching over a third of a mile. The Master Plan shows that the walls will eventually form a fish-shaped outline that encloses the Church and extends beyond, with its tail at the Pyramid and its nose way, way out toward the distant hills.  As of 2010: The Museum of History in Granite,  now consists of 18 monuments.   Once you pay your entrance fee, you are free to walk the grounds and read and explore as long as you wish.  These monument walls are every bit of a third of a mile.  It was pretty warm today but made for some interesting reading.  This would not be enjoyable in the summer as it is in direct sun light, that is why the Center itself is only open from December through March, when the outside temperature won’t kill you.  You walk out onto the field of memories to see for yourselves.  One long wall recounts the history of French aviation. There’s a United States Marine Corps Korean War Memorial monument, and  a series of eight monuments devoted to the History of Humanity.  Other walls include The 31 panel History of Arizona, The 31 panel History of California, The 62 panel Wall for the Ages includes the Hall of Fame of Parachuting. The 62 panel History of the United States of America earned a written A+ from a noted Historian.  All are completed except the grand 416 panel History of Humanity on eight monuments laid out like a compass rose. Now 31% engraved, completion is scheduled for 2019.  The Wall For The Ages is open to anyone who wants to have engraved on it his or her name, or anyone else’s, for $300, partly tax-deductible. “The ultimate Who’s Who,” Jacques-Andre calls it.

101_0227Other landmarks in Felicity reflect the eclectic tastes of the Istels.  A sculpture of God’s 101_0247arm from Michelangelo’s Dawn of Creation painting in the Sistine Chapel, acts as a sundial and points to the highest spot on the property, the church on the hill.  The sundial is precisely accurate and is set once a year  at noon on Christmas Day.  The arm points to the Church on the Hill at Felicity.  The church will remain the highest point in the town of Felicity now and in the future.  The 25 ft  high section number 12 of the original stairway of the Eiffel Tower  is the entrance sculpture at Felicity.  In 1983, the government of France  removed approximately 500 ft of the original stairway.  Built with the technology of the 1860s, the weight of approximately 54,000 lb   was causing sway at the top of the then 94-year-old tower.  Twenty sections were sold at auction on the tower on 1 December 1983.  Most are in museums and a few in private hands.  Section 12 was bought at auction in June 1989 by Jacques-Andre.   The installation of the 6,600 lb  section required engineering and a building permit.  It serves no practical purpose, but is part of the spirit of Felicity
There are no billboards for the Center of the World, the restaurant here is only open four hours a day.  Jacques-Andre says that people sometimes see the Church from the interstate, pull off at the brown “Felicity: Center of the World Plaza” sign, and mistakenly think that they’ve arrived at some kind of cult.  It does appear as such as the guides and employees are a bit strange.  Having to be escorted into the pyramid, you wonder if the doors are going to be slammed shut behind you.  All in all it’s a great stop.  For $3.00 admission or $5.00 if you want to enter the pyramid, if you are a history buff this is the place for you.  Our first idea was to see the church, then when I read about it, I wanted to see that medallion…today I got to see both.   What a fun day.


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Yuma Territorial Prison / Quartermaster Depot, Yuma, AZ

Louise Speaks:  As you have read from previous blogs, we have been to Yuma before.  We blogged about Yuma before when we did the county seats but we didn’t make it to the prison.  As you also know from previous blogs, we are trying to visit all the state parks in Arizona.  The Yuma Territorial Prison and the Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park, are both state parks so those are our stops for the day.  Since we don’t tow a car we love going to places with the RV club because someone always has a vehicle and we are always able to hitch a ride.

256px-warehouse_yumaquartermasterdepotCan you see why we picked these spots for our RV trip?  Just this trip alone, we are crossing 3 state parks off our list.  The Quartermaster Depot was formerly known as the Yuma Crossing State Park.  The Yuma Quartermaster Depot was an important  depot during the 1870s.  Goods were shipped up the Colorado River  from the Gulf of California and stored in Yuma for distribution to the desert frontier forts in the SW territories.

The Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park is on the grounds of the former Yuma Quartermaster Depot.  The depot  was established by the U.S. Army in 1864 to store and distribute supplies to frontier army posts in the southern territories.   One purpose of the depot was to ensure that a six-month supply of much needed goods such as ammunition, food and clothing was on hand at all times.  The goods and supplies were brought to Yuma from California  aboard ships that traveled around and ended at the mouth of the Colorado River.  Supplies were then shipped up the Colorado on river boats to Yuma and stored at the Yuma Quartermaster Depot.  The supplies that were gathered at the quartermaster depot were shipped throughout the southwest via river boats and overland on mule  team freight wagons.  Up to 900 mules were kept in stables at Yuma Quartermaster Depot.  The arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad in Yuma in 1877 signaled the end of the depot.  When the railroad reached Tucson  in 1880, the quartermaster depot was closed.  The Yuma Quartermaster Depot fell into a state of disrepair in the years following 1949.  Some of the facilities were used by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection  and other governmental agencies.

101_0198Five buildings left over from the quartermaster depot days remain at the park. The site was 101_0201identified as a possible historic park in the early 1960s.  The office of the depot quartermaster was acquired by the state in 1969.  More property was added to what would become the park in 1980.  The park land was purchased  by the city of Yuma and donated to the state park system in 1986.  Groundbreaking for the park was held in 1986.  The park opened in 1990 as a unit of the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park  and was established as a state historic park in 1997, under the control of the non-profit Yuma Crossing Foundation.  The Yuma Crossing Foundation established an agreement with the state parks board to manage, develop and operate the site as a living history museum. After seven years of construction and rebuilding, the park was opened to the public in 1997 as Yuma Crossing State Historic Park.  The park is part of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area.   The name of the park was changed in 2007 to reflect the original use of the area and its historic interpretive focus.  As of 2014, the park includes the Southern Pacific Railroad Passenger Coach,  which is separately listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

101_0206As we were heading to the Yuma Territorial Prison we went by the bridge the goes directly over the Yuma crossing.  The Ocean To Ocean Bridge is a through truss bridge  spanning the Colorado River in Yuma Arizona.  The bridge was built in 1915, and  it was the first highway crossing of the lower Colorado and is the earliest example of a through truss bridge in Arizona. In fact, it is also the only example of a Pennsylvania truss within Arizona.  Originally the bridge carried the transcontinental Ocean-to-Ocean Highway and later carried its successor, US 80 until a new bridge was built to the west in 1956.  Between 1988 and 2001, the bridge was closed to vehicular traffic and only traversable by pedestrians and bicyclists.  After a major restoration, the bridge was rehabilitated and reopened to vehicular traffic in 2002.

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A bit of history, on November 11, 1926, the bridge became part of  US Route 80.   The successor to the earlier Ocean-to-Ocean Highway, US 80 became the primary east to west transcontinental highway in Arizona and between the 1920s and 1930s, carried the majority of the state’s auto traffic.  During the Great Depression  in the 1930s, the Ocean to Ocean Bridge was used by California state police officers to deny entry refugees of the dust bowl hailing from Oklahoma intending to find work in California. Often called “Okies”, these people found work instead around Yuma, County between Yuma and Wellton.   The refugees soon provided critically needed assistance to local farmers.  In 1956, US 80 was re-routed off the Ocean To Ocean Bridge and onto a newer bridge built downstream at the foot of Fourth Avenue.   Following construction of the Fourth Avenue Bridge and the construction of Interstate 8 in the early 1970s, vehicular traffic and importance of the Ocean To Ocean Bridge steadily declined.  Similarly, the historic transcontinental highway which the bridge had once carried, US 80, declined and was removed from San Diego to Benson  between 1964 and 1977, no longer running through Yuma.   In 1978, the bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places.  Despite the newly gained honor, vehicular traffic was no longer allowed to use the bridge after 1988.  In 2001, a $3 million restoration and rehabilitation project was begun, temporarily closing the bridge to pedestrians as well.  Following the extensive restoration and a re-dedication ceremony, the bridge was re-opened to traffic in 2002 and now carries Penitentiary Avenue.  Crossing this bridge is like following the old Route 80, very similar to following Route 66.

101_0214Just a short distance from the bridge and the Quartermaster Depot is the Yuma Territorial101_0222 Prison State Park.  The Yuma Territorial Prison is a former prison located in Yuma.  Authorized in 1875 with a construction budget of $25,000, the prison opened in July of 1876 when the first seven prisoners were locked into cells they’d hacked out of the granite of Prison Hill with their own hands.  The prison ,  is one of the Yuma Crossing Sites and is part of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area.  Opened while Arizona was still a US territory,  the prison accepted its first inmate on July 1, 1876.  For the next 33 years 3,069 prisoners, including 20 women, served sentences there for crimes ranging from murder to polygamy.  The prison was under continuous construction with labor provided by the prisoners.   Despite its reputation, the prison was a model institution for its time — and because it boasted electricity, running water and flush toilets, some Yumans even called it “the Country Club on the Colorado.”  By 1907, the prison was severely overcrowded, and there was no room for expansion on Prison Hill.  The last prisoner left Yuma September 15, 1909 and was transferred to the newly constructed Arizona State Prison Complex  located in Florence, Arizona.   It was also the 3rd historic park in Arizona.  101_0223

Yuma Union High School occupied the buildings from 1910 to 1914.  When the school’s football 101_0219team played against Phoenix and unexpectedly won, the Phoenix team called the Yuma team “criminals”.   Yuma High adopted the nickname with pride, sometimes shortened to the “Crims”. The school’s symbol is the face of a hardened criminal, and the student merchandise shop is called the Cell Block. From 1914 to 1925 the prison was used as the County Hospital in the Superintendents house.  In 1932 the prison was used for housing during the depression.  From 1941 to through 1960 the city operated the prison as a museum.  In 1961 the Yuma Territorial State Historic Park opened to the public.  In 2010 budget cuts threaten closure of the park and Yuma’s community “Chain Gangs” raised funds to save the park.

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The Yuma Territorial Prison only operated for 33 years – but that was long enough to etch a fearsome reputation into the history of the Old West, a legacy that lives on in movies like “3:10 to Yuma.”  Some say the prison is haunted.  Perhaps it is, however no executions took place at the prison, but 111 persons died while serving time, and are buried on the grounds.  Not that we are in the habit of visiting prisons, but this was no comparrison to Alcatraz.  This prison is isolated, in the desert and I’m sure is miserable in the summer, where Alcatraz had amazing views, cool ocean breezes and seemed very pleasant in comparison.

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This was a fun stop and I’m glad we made it.  We can now cross it off our list of both sites to see and an Arizona State Park.  If you are in Yuma, there really is not much to see, so stopping here is probably something to do and very affordable at just $6.00, $5.00 if you go to the Quartermaster Depot first and bring their brochure.  Now onto the next attraction.

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Yuma Sites, Yuma, AZ

Louise Speaks:  From Parker we headed south to our next stop in Yuma.  There were some quirky things to see along the road so of we went.  I’m sure we were a sight to see.  Some rigs went on their own but 5 rigs of some sort decided to follow each other down the highway from Parker to Yuma.  When one stopped, we all stopped…where one turned in, they all turned.  We were the leaders of the caravan, so again what power we had.

churchOur first stop was one we had visited before but wanted the group to see this site.  The Pause, Rest,101_0180 Worship church. We must have been a site, 2 motor homes and 3 vehicles pulling large trailers turning onto this dirt road heading to the church.  You can see the church from the road, but seeing it up close is quite the site.  This diminutive chapel was built in 1995 by farmer Loren Pratt on the edge of his fields along the road, in honor of his deceased wife Lois.  There are literally crops growing all around the quaint chapel.  The tiny church measures 8 ft. x 12 ft. inside.  A sign on the highway announces the dirt road that leads to the church and reads: “Stop, Rest, Worship.”   In September 2011, a freak microburst storm flung the church 60 ft. in the air crushing the steeple and losing a wall.  The Pratt family have since reconstructed the church to the same dimensions, but this time they added six tiny pews seating twelve worshipers.  This probably gives more weight to the church.  As you can see, we all fit.

101_0183About 5 miles up the road from the tiny church on the west side of the road is the Bridge 101_0188to Nowhere.  There is a taco stand and gift shop along side the road where you can park and grab a bite to eat.  When you are down you can walk behind the building to a outdoor antiquie shop.  Follow the trail (walking) along the fields and you will come to the bridge to nowhere.   This 800-foot-long suspension bridge spanned the Gila River when it was built in 1929, and was named McPhaul 101_0185Bridge in honor of Henry Harrison McPhaul, “the only Yuma resident who ever became an Arizona Ranger.” The bridge was considered to be too flimsy for modern traffic, and when a dam was built upstream in 1968 the river was diverted and the highway was rerouted over a much smaller bridge.  This ultimately proved unwise, as a flood in 1993 destroyed the new bridge while the Bridge to Nowhere, with its broad span and high clearance, survived and would probably  have been just fine.  McPhaul Bridge crosses only desert sand and rocks these days, but the Arizona air has kept it remarkably intact.  We did see some water in the distance running under the bridge, but the bridge is just there…it goes nowhere.  Inside the taco shop, there is the history of the bridge and it claims that this bridge was the prototype for the Golden Gate Bridge, and the similarity is striking.  Many in our group joined me on this walking adventure, and the bridge is some site.  When you see the way it was built, it makes you wonder, why did they think this bridge was flimsy.  This was a great stop, with some great food.

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We then continued onto Yuma where we checked into our next RV spot.  We met up with  the other rigs that had left before us and had a great time in Yuma.  Everyone had what they wanted to see and do in Yuma so everyone was on their own.  We had some great stops on our bucket list and we are seeing them tomorrow….you’ll have to read about them in the next blog.