Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Preserving Yma's past: Yuma Territorial Prison

View from Yuma Territorial Prison grounds
The site of Yuma Territorial Prison would be considered prime real estate today. Remains of the famed prison sit atop a cliff at the confluence of the Colorado and Gila rivers, allowing visitors to what is now an Arizona state historic park to see for miles and miles. The deal buster, however, would probably be a railroad track that took part of the prison grounds and is busily in use today.

Not too much of the original prison, built by its tenants in the mid 1870s, remains today. The guard tower sits on one rock pile, but it only appears to be a few years old. The entrance or sally port has been restored, but the cell blocks behind the museum are eerily original. Voices of prisoners tell their story as visitors peer into some of the cells.

Yuma Territorial Prison cell block
When it opened in 1876, it quickly became known as the Country Club of the Colorado because prisoners had amenities Yuma townspeople didn’t have: a hospital with dental facilities, the largest library in the territory with 2,000 books, a primitive air conditioning system in the east cell blocks, and a school where classes included German and music (the prisoners had their own band.)

Prisoners, however, called their home a “hell hole.” Six men were crammed into a small space with only a bucket for a toilet. A good many prisoners died of consumption, now known as tuberculosis. Lice and roaches were common because of unsanitary conditions.

A prisoner made this collar
When they weren’t doing work for the prison, inmates could make extra money through crafts work. Examples of wooden boxes and jewelry were on display, but my favorite was seeing the exquisite lace knitted by some prisoners.

One famous time
The museum gets a lot of visitors today, many probably coming to see it  because of the movie, 3:10 to Yuma, originally made in 1957 and remade in 2007. A clock on the museum wall is permanently set at 3:10.
This is the second old prison we've visited in recent years. The first was the Montana Territorial Prison at Deer Lodge. Compared to Yuma, this prison is positively upscale, though that might be because it was updated several times in the more than 100 years it served as a prison.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Food stops: olives, oranges and dates

Some of our favorite travel stops deal with food: candies from Cranberry Sweets, cheeses from the Loleta Cheese Factory (a favorite stop, though not on this trip), etc. We enjoy sampling the treats at the store and then enjoying our purchases even more when we get home. Much to the detriment of our bank account, we have found the more free samples a store offers, the more we are inclined to buy.

These three food stops are among those we’ve made so far:

The Olive Pit
Located in Corning, California, The Olive Pit is the place to go if you like olives, say olives stuffed with garlic or blue cheese, kalamata olives or just plain jane black olives. The Olive Pit has been serving up olives for 50 years, and they’ve more than gotten the hang of it. Free samples abound, so we usually end up buying several jars of various flavors. This visit Jon sprang for a gallon can of black olives.
We’ve been stopping here since our honeymoon back in 2002, and it’s one of our favorite food stops.

 Citrus Extravaganza
As the name implies, Citrus Extravaganza, more formally known as the Murray Family Farms, specializes in citrus fruits. Located near Bakersfield, it has an old-fashioned juicer that you can use to squeeze yourself a fresh cup of orange juice. Be warned, you have to be pretty strong to even get a drop out of this squeezing machine, but the effort is worth it.

Martha’s Gardens
Date palms
Martha’s Gardens is an organic date farm located on a dirt road in rural Yuma. The farm grows Medjool dates, which originally came from Iraq. It has a pleasant outdoor patio where you can eat a deli sandwich while sipping a date shake. Jon doesn’t particularly like dates, yet somehow managed to consume a good portion of my date shake, which was eaten through a straw with a spoon on the end to scoop up the thick concoction. Scrumptious!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Tyson's Well Stage Station Museum

Tyson's Well Stage Station Museum
Tucked away on a side street surrounded by humongous flea markets it a little museum that is well work visiting when you’re in Quartzsite, Arizona.

The Tyson’s Well Stage Station Museum is easy to miss, surrounded as it is by a chain link fence, with the entrance down a short dirt road.

The museum is housed in an old adobe brick building, the same one that was used as the stage coach station in the 1860s.It was established by Charley Tyson and was an important stop on the stage route to California because it offered excellent water and grass for the horses. The building has been restored somewhat, but otherwise sits just where it was when Charley Tyson built it. I was surprised at how small the rooms were as well as how low the ceilings were. For sure, tall hombres like John Wayne wouldn’t fit in the building comfortably, and would be forever banging their heads on the door jamb as they moved from room to room.

Outside the stage station, near a dirt and gravel parking lot that would be crowded with more than a handful of cars, is a miniature replica of the stage station created in rock pieces and adobe. The display also contains a village in miniature, and was created over eight years by a man who wintered in Quartzsite. His family donated it to the museum when he died.

The museum houses memorabilia detailing Quartzsite’s history since it was founded in 1867, including sections devoted to prominent citizens, like Hi Jolly, whose name of Hadjii Alli was mangled in translation. Hi Jolly was one of several camel drivers who accompanied a herd of camels to Arizona back in the days when the U.S. Army cavalry experimented with using camels instead of  horses in this desert setting. The experiment failed, but Hi Jolly and the camels became permanent residents of the Arizona Territory.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Quartzsite, Arizona: snowbird capital?

RV park in Quartzite
At one time, Quartzsite, Arizona, was the snowbird capital of the world. Each January, upwards of a quarter million people would descend on this spot in the desert to spend the winter months in a warm climate.

Now they’re lucky if they get 50,000 snowbirds in January. A poor economy keeps some seniors from traveling, while others want a bigger community with a fancier infrastructure, such as you’ll find in Lake Havasu City and Parker. Still, Quartzsite has 27 RV parks, plus hundreds, if not thousands, of people choose cheap BLM camping. For $140 for three months, you can dry camp anywhere on BLM land. Quartzsite businesses will bring water and propane to you as well as empty your dirty tanks.

A Quartzite flea market
If you’re not into rocks and flea markets, finding enough to do could be a problem. We tried a couple of the flea markets/swap meets today. They are all over the place. We found prices very high for used goods. I went into a scratch ‘n dent grocery stall today. Dented canned goods sold for more than you’d pay new at a supermarket, while many of the other items being sold were long past their shelf life. I found candy bars marked best used if eaten by 2011.

Quartzsite lies at the intersection of US Highway 95 and Interstate 10. Traffic on the freeway is horrendous around the clock. We should know. The RV park we’re at borders the freeway. It’s an older park, full of permanent and long-term residents. Noise aside, we like it because the staff is helpful and there is more space between rigs than many other places provide.

Quartzsite has about 3,500 permanent residents, which means that RVs still outnumber residents. There are several RV dealerships, and this weekend what is billed as the largest RV show in the world opens.


Redwood National Park

A California redwood
The tallest trees in the world can be found in northern California. These are the redwoods that stand centuries old and majestic.

The redwoods are easily viewable as Highway 101 passes through the Redwood National and State Parks. For a more personal look, detour to one of the roads that parallels Highway 101. There are plenty of places to stop and soak in the majestic beauty of these ancient trees. Take time to hike through the forest or enjoy them at length by camping among them. We've also enjoyed stops at Trees of Mystery, which provides a fascinating walk through these gigantic trees.

Redwood National Park
The park has more than redwood trees that grow to 300 feet or more high. Sitka spruce and Douglas fir are other common trees, and don’t forget the 40 miles of coastline with the migrating sea lions and gray whales. Inland, you’ll likely come across Roosevelt elk grazing along the highway. Elk can’t read, however, or else they wouldn’t be congregating around a road sign that warned of an elk crossing two miles ahead; they’d be up the road like they were supposed to be. Black bears and bald eagles also can be seen occasionally.

Redwood National Park was established in 1968, though the state parks that make up the complex were established as early as the 1920s. The combined parks total 133,000 acres.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The wild burros of Oatman, Arizona

Feeding wild burros
Calling the burros that roam the street of Oatman, Arizona, wild would appear to be a misnomer. Technically, they are wild as the freely wander the area and belong to no man. In actuality, they can be petted and fed snacks.  Townspeople warn they can be aggressive, though I would call them greedy instead. No tourist carrying a sack is safe as the burros think the sack is filled with snacks for them and will take appropriate action to get them.

When the burros see someone with food, they immediately proclaim that person their new best friend. When the carrots or burro chow is gone, they immediately begin looking for their next new best friend. Jon was barely out the door of our piclup when the burros spied the bag of carrots he’d brought to feed them, and surrounded him. One burro thought he’d outsmart the others and tried to climb into the cab where he was sure Jon had more stashed away. He was SOL.

A wild burro
Today’s burros, which townspeople have named, are descendants of the burros prospectors turned lose in the 19th century. Oatman is an old mining town. It’s main street is Route 66. If a motorist is lucky, he can speed through town at the posted 10 mph. He usually isn’t, which means inching along the street filled with burros and the tourists who are feeding them. When cars are parked on both sides of the street, only one car can go through at a time.

The burros are the main draw to Oatman; restaurants even serve burro ears, which aren’t burro ears at all, just super sized potato chips served with a dipping sauce of sour cream and salsa.

Oatman was once a major stop on Route 66 between Kingman, Arizona, and Needles, California. Now it’s a tourist attraction, with lots of souvenir shops. Jon even found some antique motorcycles tucked away in one store, and said he was impressed with the collection.

Oatman's main and only street
We had lunch at the Oatman Hotel, the community’s oldest two-story adobe building. Built in 1902, it is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s claim to fame is that it is the place where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent their honeymoon after being married in Kingman in 1939. Gable reportedly visited Oatman several times to play poker with the miners.

Getting there

Traveling Route 66 to Oatman
Oatman can be reached by taking the first exit off I-40 after crossing the California border into Arizona. From there, it’s a 25-mile drive over twisty, hilly, chuck-hole filled roads. But, hey! This is Route 66, America’s highway, that you’re driving on. Just pop your favorite car-sickness remedy while remembering when the highway was built, roads followed the contours of the landscape, and were not flattened or straightened out like today’s superhighways are.

The road is filled with quaint signs, such as "Hill blocks view."  Sure enough, you can't see the view on the other side until you reach the top of that pesky hill.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Arizona's London Bridge

London Bridge in Lake Havasu City
London Bridge may have fallen down, or rather been taken down, at one time, but it certainly is alive and well in Lake Havasu, Arizona, where it is considered one of the state’s top tourist attractions.

The bridge, which once spanned the Thames River in London, now joins Lake Havasu City proper with an island. The original London Bridge was built in 12th century England; construction on this bridge started in 1825. About 1968, it was determined the bridge could no longer handle London traffic, so the city’s council put it on the market. An American, Robert McCullough, was the successful bidder at $2.46 million.

Visitor center painting of London Bridge
The bridge was dismantled stone by stone and shipped to Arizona, where it was put back together and rededicated in 1971.

English Village, complete with a British pub, lies at the city-side foot of the bridge.  There’s a walkway under the bridge that provides for a pleasant stroll on sunny days. You can also rent paddle boats to travel the channel and into the bay.

The bridge wasn’t as spectacular as I thought it would be, nor is crossing it as thrilling as I thought it would be.  But then we cross it several times a day, as we’re staying on the island and all the interesting stuff is on the other side. It is a pretty bridge, but ordinary.

Blog debuts

This is the debut of my latest blog, Cheryl’s USA. It is intended as a companion to Jon and Cheryl’s excellent adventure, about the trials and tribulations about our lives as fulltime

RVers. Cheryl’s USA will highlight the places we visit in our journey.