Among the hottest, driest, and fastest-growing areas in the country, Yuma (pop. 135,000) was first settled in 1779 at the site of one of the few good crossings along the Colorado River. Dozens of decaying old adobe buildings around town testify to Yuma’s lengthy history, and a select few places are preserved as historic parks. The Yuma Crossing (daily; $4; 928/329-0471), along the river and I-8 at the north end of 4th Avenue, has been restored to its appearance prior to the arrival of the railroad in 1876, when supplies for U.S. troops throughout the Southwest arrived here by steamboat from the Gulf of California.
Around the time the railroad arrived, a full century after its founding by Spanish missionaries, Yuma was the site of Arizona Territory’s main prison. Built out of stone and adobe by convicts struggling in the 120° heat, over the next 33 years until it was closed in 1909, the prison earned a reputation as the “Hellhole of Arizona,” due in large part to the summer heat and the brutality of its regime, though park rangers emphasize the fact that prisoners had access to a library and other facilities unusual at the time. Now preserved as the state-run Yuma Territorial Prison (daily; $4; 928/783-4771), well-posted along the north side of I-8 at the 4th Avenue exit, the site consists of a few of the cells and the main gate, as well as a small museum.
From the prison, a rickety pedestrian-only steel bridge (formerly part of US-80) leads across the Colorado River to California and the St. Thomas mission church on the Quechan Fort Yuma Indian Reservation.
Along with the usual national franchises, Yuma has a number of decent places to eat, ranging from the big breakfasts and afternoon BBQ at Brownie’s Cafe at 1145 S. 4th Avenue (old US-80); to the pool tables, burgers, and sandwiches at ancient Lutes Casino (928/782-2192), at 221 S. Main Street in the historic old downtown area. Voted the “Best Place to Stop in Yuma” by the Arizona Republic newspaper, Lutes is a barn-like hall full of old photos, political posters, street signs, and all manner of junk, well worth a look at least for its passionately played domino games.
Along with the national chains, places to sleep in Yuma include the pleasant Yuma Cabana ($40; 928/783-8311 or 800/874-0811), at 2151 S. 4th Avenue, with palm trees, a nice pool, and a recliner in every room.