Louise 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.
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.
Can 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.
Five buildings left over from the quartermaster depot days remain at the park. The site was identified 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.
As 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.
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.
Just a short distance from the bridge and the Quartermaster Depot is the Yuma Territorial 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.
Yuma Union High School occupied the buildings from 1910 to 1914. When the school’s football team 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.
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.
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.
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.
Our first stop was one we had visited before but wanted the group to see this site. The Pause, Rest, 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.
About 5 miles up the road from the tiny church on the west side of the road is the Bridge to 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 Bridge 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.
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.