Southern Pacific

Among the hottest, driest, and fastest-growing areas in the country, Yuma (pop. 97,908) was first settled in the 1770s 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 Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park (928/783-0071, daily Oct.-May, Tues.-Sun. June-Sept. $6), along the river and I-8 at the north end of 4th Avenue, includes buildings that have been restored to their appearance prior to the arrival of the railroad in 1877, 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. Convicts struggled in the 120°F (49°C) heat to build the stone and adobe prison, which 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. It operated 33 years until it was closed in 1909 and is now preserved as the state-run Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park (928/783-4771, daily 9am-5pm daily Oct.-May, Thurs.-Mon. June-Sept., $8), well posted along the north side of I-8 at the North 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 Indian Mission Church on the Fort Yuma Quechan Indian Reservation.

Along with the usual national franchises, Yuma has a number of decent places to eat, ranging from world-class chorizo-and-eggs and chicken fried steak at Brownie’s Restaurant (1145 S. 4th Ave./old US-80, 928/783-7911) to the pool tables, burgers, and sandwiches at ancient Lutes Casino (221 S. Main St., 928/782-2192) in the historic old downtown area. Voted the “Best Place to Stop in Yuma” by the Arizona Republic newspaper, Lutes is a barnlike 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 Econo Lodge Inn & Suites (2151 S. 4th Ave., 928/783-8311, around $50 and up), with palm trees, a nice pool, and a recliner in every room.

Map of the Southern Pacific Route through Arizona

Map of Southern Pacific through Arizona.
Map of Southern Pacific through Arizona.

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