A developer's palm tree lined neighborhood street.
The homes were never built.
A Salton Sea inlet where there once was an RV park.
Long Fall shadows from our legs and a
walking stick. Winter was coming.
The landscape of a mixed green salad
Yuma is the capital of leafy greens.
Lakeside in Yuma
Redondo Lake Boondocking
The dust storms are like blizzard white-outs
The morning greeted us with a spectacular sunrise
Cheery moment - a sailboat passes through
Yuma en route to San Diego
Fantastic adobe houses with brightly glazed tiles
Old Town Yuma
The "Coolest Bar Downtown"
An old-time restaurant
loaded with antiques
Colorado River Crossing Balloon Festival
Heating up the balloon
Keeping the basket grounded
Balloons of all kinds
The Balloon Glow
Yuma Territorial Prison
Cell block. No one ever escaped from these cells.
Double doors for each
9' x 12' and 6 to a cell
Hike to the Towers
Yuma Lakes RV Park, submerged!
November 1-30, 2008 - We left San Diego in high spirits, the memories of the fog horns, the salt air, the fresh sailing breezes and
warm air still filling our senses. So it was quite a shock when we climbed the mountains to the east on I-8 and had to brace
ourselves against a nasty wind storm that forced us under way too many blankets at night while the heater ran full blast. We were
in denial about winter coming, and it was a relief when the storm passed and the California deserts at the base of the mountains
warmed us up again. We stopped near Salton City for a few days, and heard the sad tale of the sadly exploited Salton Sea.
Salton Sea - lost treasure
The Sea was once a playground, filled with fish and boats and laughing
kids throwing sticks in the water for their dogs. Sadly, now the beaches
are layered in dead fish on thick beds of bleached non-native barnacle
shells. We rode our bikes through virtual ghost towns along this huge
inland salt lake's shoreline. Palm trees lined would-be neighborhood
streets amid developers' evaporated dreams. Half-built homes had long
ago given up hope for windows and siding, and their yawning open frames
were a stark contrast to the beautiful mountain, beach and waterfront
All are victims
adjacent farmlands and
caused by the Sea's
Former picnic areas, RV
parks, tiki bars and
housing stand vacant,
forlorn, longing for the
return of ecologically
healthier times that may
never come. The only life is huge flocks of pelicans and ibis that feast on the sole
surviving fish, a tiny non-native species. After talking at length with several long-
time residents about this miserable state of affairs, we moved on, our spirits badly
Yuma: desert + water = produce
We went to Yuma, Arizona, hoping for sunlight and some good cycling.
We found both, along with a great place to camp near a small lake along
the edge of vast farmlands. This corner of the world is rich in lettuce,
kale, spinach and other leafy greens.
We hooked up
Club and did
them, getting to
know the back
roads and canal banks around town. Yuma is blistering hot in the
summer but comes to life each winter as residents of the northern states
and provinces arrive in flocks during their annual "snowbird" migration.
Most people we met around town lived in an RV, and there was a festive
air everywhere as old friends arrived and got together again.
One morning we awoke to a spectacular sunrise, but "red sky at morning"
proved true as an amazing wind storm blew into town. The dust swirled until
you couldn't see, making white-out blizzard-like conditions on the roads. The
and suddenly we were
thrust into winter for
several days. Suddenly
we were drinking
copious cups of hot tea
and taking long turns
over the heat vents to
warm our bones.
We had left San Diego
just a week or so ago, yet all that summertime fun was
quickly fading into a beautiful, distant memory. Sigh.
Winter is not our favorite season. Even in Arizona it is just
too darned cold for too long!
We cheered up immensely one afternoon when we found
ourselves in traffic behind a yacht hauler taking a brand new
boat from Florida to a dealership in San Diego. How ironic that
this very same dealership had taken us on a "test sail" of this
very same boat model just a few weeks ago.
Yuma's Old Town
Yuma has a lot of history, and we spent some
happy afternoons wandering around the Old Town
district. Most of the buildings, dating from 100
years or so ago, are made of adobe brick, so the
walls are enormously thick.
Many are decorated with pretty, brightly
colored, glazed tile, and we learned that
this is "Anglicized Sonoran" architecture.
We wandered down some stairs and
found ourselves in the middle of The
Garden Restaurant, a charming little spot
with tables on many levels, overhanging
branches offering colorful flowers and shade, and birds of
all types singing and squawking in cages along the
In winter especially, this is definitely an outdoor
community, with lots of little boutiques for shopping.
We saw the outside of the "Coolest Bar Downtown" but went
inside the famed Lutes Casino where antiques, memorabilia and
goodies from another era fill the restaurant from floor to ceiling.
A popular hangout for marines from the nearby Air Station, Lutes
has a display with a letter from a homesick marine in Desert
Storm who wrote longingly of how one of their "especial" dinners
(a hot dog and a hamburger) would taste so good right about
As we started to turn back towards the parked truck
we heard the most amazing electric guitar riffs in the
distance. Someone was having fun -- either
listening to something very loud or playing loudly
himself. We followed the sounds to the Mustard Seed Restaurant. The door
was propped open, and a musical firestorm filled our ears as we poked our
heads inside. A young fellow was playing his heart out. He stopped when he
saw us and introduced himself as the Owner-Operator-Chef of the restaurant.
"I'm just checking out the sound system. Come back tonight at 9:00 and I'll be
jamming with some friends."
Yuma hosts the Colorado River Crossing Balloon
Festival each year, and we went to the fairgrounds to
see the Balloon Glow one evening. One by one, at
least 25 balloons were laid out on the grass and filled
with hot air.
Balloon teams come to Yuma from all over for this festival, and each team expertly
raised their balloon to vertical and kept its basket tied to the ground so it wouldn't
There were traditional balloon shapes, a few with advertisers' names displayed, and
even one lady bug balloon.
As the sun set the spectators streamed in and the glow
began. An announcer would get the balloonists to
coordinate their flame blasts so that all the balloons would
light up together. The balloons can't take the hot air for
too long at a time, or they will try to float away,
so the balloons would glow together for just a
few moments and then go dark to cool down.
There were two balloon launches during the weekend as
well, but they required getting up and driving a long ways
before dawn, and both mornings we opted to stay in our
warm bed with the down comforters pulled over our heads.
Yuma Territorial Prison
Back when Arizona was young -- in
1876 when it was just a territory and
not yet a state -- it became home to
the Territorial Prison. Arizona
distributed its various government
responsibilities between the three major
settlements: Phoenix vied for the eventual
state capitol, Tucson nourished the seedling
public university, and Yuma got the prison.
This shaped the future state's personality:
Phoenix is the hub of commerce, Tucson is
the cultural mecca, and Yuma, well, Yuma
gave the prison to Florence in 1909 and
concentrated on agriculture and winter visitors.
This prison was nicknamed "The Hellhole of the West." Out of ~3,000
prisoners only 26 ever escaped from the cell blocks. No wonder: the cells
were steel cages covered with granite, and
each cell had a double door. The first
prisoners had the privilege of building the
prison before moving in, which reminded me
of New Hampshire's modern day inmates
stamping out license plates with the motto
"Live Free or Die."
Each cell had six bunks, but as the years
went by they sometimes had to house more
than six men. The single, shared chamber
pot was emptied once a day. Bedbugs
lived in the wooden bunks and ate the
prisoners raw until the wooden bunks
were finally burned and replaced with
steel. There was a "dark cell" that offered solitary confinement for disruptive prisoners. We crept
into this pitch black hole that had housed a 5'x5' steel cage where prisoners spent anywhere from
one to over 100 nights. The only light came from a tiny shaft above. No chamber pot here: the
floor of the cage was cleaned every few months. Yikes. Several women were rewarded for their
bad behavior with a stint in the dark cell too.
Hikes and Walks
There are pretty hikes in the hills around Yuma, and we ventured up a
very steep hill one morning to get a commanding view of the farmlands
Winter pressed on as November drew to a close, and we were deluged
with two days of torrential rain. Nearby Yuma
Lakes RV Park became submerged, and the
reflections of the rigs in the standing water made
some colorful photos on our daily walks.
We stayed in Yuma for all of November, 2008, slowly adjusting to the fact that
winter was here and wasn't going to leave any time soon. We got word from
friends we had met last year in Quartzsite that they were returning, so we
finally packed up and made the short trek north to one of the world's oddest
temporary communities: the BLM land surrounding the truck-stop town of
Quartzsite, Arizona. For the next two months we hovered in and around