Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Yuma, YPG and life in the desert: part two

Yuma, the closest city, was 45 minutes away and worth the drive if only to see the Territorial Prison Museum and the Quartermaster Depot. Bonus was a fantastic Mexican restaurant called Mi Rancho. So tiny but so authentic I could hardly wait for our next meal. We had lunch then dinner a few days later. Why are these fantastic restaurants so out of the way?

The boring part of Yuma is you need to drive there to do laundry or buy food. There is a small convenience store about ten minutes from the campground at the Yuma Proving Grounds base. Gas, ice, and a few necessities can be purchased there but anything serious needs to be picked up in Yuma. Their paramedics respond to local emergencies around the YPG base which eased my fear for my sister and her husband. Not that anything is wrong with either one of them but a bumpy 45 minute ride to Yuma with a broken arm would be unbearable.

The good part of Yuma was the prison museum and the park that once was the Quartermaster's Depot. If you thought life was difficult in 1863 in the southwest corner of the US it was even worse if you were a prisoner. Finding a need for a more secure place to keep felons, rapists, bank robbers, and murderers they built this fine prison. What was amazing to me was prisoners did escape from this fortress; but to what? Yuma was a tiny spot on the map, far from an other city, and the rest of the area was a harsh desert devoid of anything except snakes, coyotes, and a few natives. Your only hope to survive was the Colorado and Gila river but even that was wrought with danger. Yuma was built as a depot to move goods from California to all the other godforsaken outposts in the California/Nevada/Arizona territories and needed a steamboat to make the crossing. The Colorado, before us Californios sucked it dry, was a formidable river to cross.

The park that now surrounds what's left of the Quartermaster's Depot is quite lovely. A green expanse of a lawn is a welcome site from the rocks and sand of the desert and sitting on the edge of the river afforded us with a lovely breeze. The Depot was the hub of excitement of it's time and, though the commanding officer's wife was less than happy with her situation, it must have been better than other posts. Her writings complained bitterly of the smell and heat but I'm assuming it had something to do with the Victorian modesty of wearing those hideously hot clothes and high button shoes. And the fact that bathing was not a daily ritual as it is today.

The city of Yuma, growing outwardly from the Depot, is very logical, if not boring, in it's street planning. The streets going east and west are numbered as well as the avenues going north and south starting with Main Street. I'm only assuming some tired little man with a pince nez and a heavy wool coat over a waistcoat came up with that idea for lack of the imagination to create names for the newly burgeoning township of Yuma. It is logical but might cause a bit of confusion to an outsider. Always remember to ask if it's fifth street or avenue.

Yuma also is a huge agricultural area irrigated by the tail-end of the Colorado River and is said to keep most of the US in lettuce. I can attest to the fact they are trying. We drove through lots of fields before getting the Yuma proper.

Part three; coming soon.

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