Saturday, May 24, 2014

Army honors trail-blazing Mormons at Yuma, Arizona

Yuma statue honors Mormon Battalion
A war between the United States and Mexico resulted in a southern wagon train route to the Pacific Ocean. This trail was blazed by more than 500 Mormons who enlisted in the Army in 1846. A statue commemorating this journey can be found at Yuma, Arizona’s West Wetlands Park on the Colorado River.

The Army solicited Mormons specifically for this trip members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints already were seeking new territory in the West to settle. The group became known as the Mormon Battalion. Besides establishing a southern route across the southwest, their mission was to secure California and New Mexico for the United States.

The Mormon Battalion began service on July 16, 1846, in Iowa. Some soldiers brought their wives and children on the trip, but not all ended their journey in California. Among the scouts for the trip was Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, the son of Sacajawea who served as guide and translator for the Lewis and Clark Expedition to the Pacific Ocean in 1804-6. Charbonneau was only a few months old when he made the trip west with these explorers.

The battalion arrived in Yuma on January 9, 1847, where they camped along the Colorado River. The next day they crossed the Colorado at Los Algodones, Mexico, less than 10 miles from present-day Yuma. Their journey ended in San Diego, California, on January 29, 1847.

The wagon trail they established would be well used within just a couple of years, as 60,000 miners bound for the California gold fields traveled this route. Today’s Interstate 8 freeway parallels this route through Yuma.

Yuma's West Wetlands Park
Finding the monument can be tricky. The park is reached by heading west on Yuma’s First Street, then taking a right on 12th Avenue.  It’s a ways from the most well-used sections of the park. Continue on the road through the park, past the solar energy project. There are no signs marking the statue honoring the Mormon Battalion, so be on the lookout for a pedestrian bridge on the right side of the road. The statue is visible through the underpass. Limited parking is available on the other side of the road.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Route 66: Dramamine required

Stunning highway views
Route 66 is not always like the comfortably paved highway celebrated in the classic television series of that name. At least one part is so hair-raising you need nerves of steel to drive it, and passengers may want to have plenty of motion sickness remedy handy.

The 22-mile section in question starts a few miles south of Kingman, Arizona, where Route 66 also is known as the Oatman Highway. The first few miles are pretty good compared to the rest of the journey, with mostly roller-coaster roads, but once you start the climb into the mountains, it’s a different story.

The road is narrow with steep grades and lots of hairpin turns. One driver estimated there were 122 turns, so you can imagine how twisty the final miles are. I didn’t keep count of the number of turns, but I would not dispute the other driver's figure. The drive is very nerve-wracking if you’re headed south toward Oatman because your vehicle will be in the outside lane which overlooks deep canyons and ravines. The shoulder isn’t very wide and there are no guard rails as we know them today. A few places had short curbs while wood posts connected by wire cable passed for guardrails in a couple of other places, but mostly there was nothing to keep vehicles from tumbling over the bank. Far better to drive this highway north out of Oatman where if you drive off the road, you’ll end up against a hill.

Oh, and the road isn’t very well maintained, so drive slowly, not that you could go very fast over it anyway. This would be a great road for motorcyclists, but not for RVs or large passenger cars. Route 66 – America’s highway – was built in the days when roads followed the contours of the land, bridges were only built over rivers and cars were a lot smaller.

The summit at Sitgreaves Pass
Whatever else it may be, this section of Route 66 is very scenic. You can literally see for miles and miles. There are occasional pull-offs to admire the view. The summit, at Sitgreaves Pass, is 3,550 feet high, then you start downhill, which is almost as scary, past a working gold mine, into Oatman
Downtown Oatman
Route 66 is Oatman’s main street, barely two lanes wide. Traffic slows to a crawl here because the street is frequently filled with tourists feeding wild burros.

The rest of the Oatman Highway, from Oatman to Topock, Arizona, where it joins Interstate 40, is boring in comparison, as it is mostly roller-coaster road, so you still might want to keep the Dramamine handy.