Sunday, June 29, 2014

Yuma: sand dunes, but where's the ocean?

Yuma Sand Dunes from the freeway
Yuma is famous for its hot summer temperatures and its mild winter climate that attractions tens of thousands of snowbirds annually. It also is famous as the home to one of the world’s largest inland sand masses.
Though the sand dunes are located in California, about 20 miles west of Yuma, they’re still named after America’s hottest summer city. Motorists on Interstate 8 drive through miles of the dunes on their way to San Diego. There’s a rest area between the east and west bound lanes of the freeway, but there is no dunes access. The dunes, along the eastern edge of the Imperial Valley, run for more than 40 miles.

The dunes are a national recreation area managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). They’re very popular with off-road enthusiasts. More than 80,000 acres are open to off-road motorized vehicles in the dunes, mainly starting at Highway 78 and running south to the freeway.  Motorized vehicles are not allowed in the North Algodones Dunes Wilderness, which is accessible only on foot or horseback. Vehicle camping is allowed in all areas open to vehicles, though some spots are available on a first-come basis.

The Yuma Sand Dunes are popular with movie-makers who shot films here as early as 1913. Films made here include Star Wars, Scorpion King and Jarhead.



Saturday, June 14, 2014

Yuma's Lutes Casino boasts eclectic interior

Interior of Lutes Casino
Lutes Casino in Old Town Yuma is an interesting place to wile away a few hours if you’re interested in old posters and other memorabilia. The interior is crammed floor to ceiling with pictures and posters; some items hang from the ceiling. It is, as their website, describes the place, “interesting junk.”

Items on the wall include an autographed photograph of actor Walter Brennan, pool players and nude bikers; well, they weren't really nude --they were wearing shoes and socks.

The casino isn’t a casino in the normal use of the word, in that it doesn’t have poker tables or slot machines, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t at some time in its long history. It does have a couple of pool tables and lays claim to being the oldest pool hall in Arizona. Lutes also lays claim to being the oldest domino hall in the state, with tables at the front where patrons can play this board game.

The building it occupies was constructed in 1901 when it was used as a general store on the ground floor and a hotel on the second floor. Around 1920 the building was turned into the Casino Billiard Parlor. Ownership changed a few times over the next fdew decades, with it being acquired by the Lute family in the 1940s with the previous owner using it to settle a gambling debt.

Lutes has a bar and restaurant that serves hamburgers, hot dogs, a few other sandwiches and salads, and some quesadillas and tacos. Their “especial,” as the menu calls it, is a cheeseburger and wiener combo drenched in hot sauce.

Jazz lovers take note: Lutes sponsors a series of Friday night jazz concerts two Friday a month during the summer. Performances by local musicians are popular; seating  is limited.

Lutes is located at 224 Main Street.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Old locomotive marks Yuma Crossing

Interpretive sign at Pivot Point
Pivot Point is a nice place to relax while learning a bit about the history of Yuma. Located near Old Town Yuma along the Colorado River, the spot commemorates the spot where the first train crossed into Arizona in 1877.

A huge old Southern Pacific locomotive, a 1907 Baldwin, stands on the spot today. A public address system recreates sounds that train engineers and passengers might have heard after crossing. These sounds include the train’s arrival, a passing steamboat and the bridge over the river being cranked open.
Old locomotive at Pivot Point
Part of the original rail line is still on-site. That’s the concrete pivot that was turned to allow boats to pass. Pivot Point Plaza is part of the Yuma Crossing National Historic Landmark.  Nearby is the Yuma Territorial Prison (think “3:10 to Yuma”) and the Ocean to Ocean Highway Bridge, the last link connecting the southwestern transportation system between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Pivot Point Interpretive Plaza, which sits above Gateway Park, is a colorful place to be at night between October 1 and May 31. That’s when the city park puts on a laser light show.  The show goes on hiatus during the summer months because of Yuma’s heat: the lasers need to be chilled to work properly.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Sanguinetti House: a cool piece of Yuma's history

Sanguinetti House Museum
The Sanguinetti House Museum is a good place to chill out on a hot day in Yuma, Arizona. Located in Old Town, this adobe house, built in the 1870s, has at least one modern convenience: an air conditioner. It also has a lush garden with plenty of shade in back.

E.F. Sanguinetti
The museum is named for its former owner, E.F. Sanguinetti, an early pioneer in Yuma who was a businessman, merchant, farmer and banker. He was considered one of Yuma’s most influential citizens of that era.

This Arizona Historical Society Museum traces the history of Yuma and the Lower Colorado River from the mid-16th century one. Reproductions of old photographs, such as President Taft signing the Arizona statehood bill, line the walls of this compact house. Antique buffs will love the two small rooms crammed with dark, ornate period furniture and other furnishings. One of the museum’s most interesting features, however, just very well may be the 37-minute video that traces the history of Yuma. It is a fast-paced presentation crammed with loads of interesting facts about this important military and agricultural community in the very southwest corner of the state. I particularly enjoyed learning more about Yuma’s military history: that General George Patton trained his troops for warfare in North Africa near here, and that B26 bomber gunners learned how to shoot at the military base, now a Marine air station, by riding a Jeep that had a gun mounted to it around a track.

Sanguinetti House garden
The garden is at the rear of the house. It is filled with lush greenery not usually found in Yuma. Benches are tucked in among the greenery, giving visitors a place to sit and enjoy the peacefulness and privacy of the garden. The garden could have used a good weeding the day we were there, but it did not detract that much from the serenity of the place. At one time, the garden had an aviary, but now there are only empty cages.

The Sanguinetti House Museum is located at 240 Madison Street. It is closed Sundays and Mondays. There is a small admission fee.