The city of Yuma, Arizona, is the sunniest place on the planet, with 4,015 hours of sunlight per year, according to Sleepopolis. That and its location on the Colorado River and the border of California and Mexico make it a gathering place for winter visitors looking to escape the cold temperatures of the North.
The metropolis has been attracting visitors to its expansive desert landscape and river banks since the 1700s, when explorers recognized the Yuma Crossing as a practical route between Sonora, Mexico, and Northern California.
The area’s appeal quickly expanded in the 1800s with the American gold rush, followed by the establishment of an Army fort and eventually a territorial prison, which still stands today. We had toured the Yuma Territorial Prison and some other highlights on a previous trip to the area. It’s worth exploring. While visiting my parents in Yuma more recently, we found some other cool digs.
1. Tour Castle Dome City, Ghost Town, and Museum
About an hour’s drive from Yuma, the Castle Dome Museum, named for the castle-shaped mountain that stands as its backdrop, is worth the trip. Unlike many touristy ghost towns, this one offers an authentic picture of life in the 1800s, including numerous artifacts left over from the era of mining silver-galena — or silver ore mixed with lead — from 300 mines.
The mines were in operation from the mid-1800s to 1979, when the price of silver dropped. During WWI and WWII, the military harvested lead from the mines to make ammunition.
For a $15 admission ($16 with a credit card), you can explore the town’s more than 50 buildings, including a schoolhouse, a mercantile with an attached dentist office, a church, a former restaurant, a hotel, multiple bars/saloons, a bank, a barber shop, a dress shop, and a whole lot more. You’ll even find remnants from the town’s later days in the 1970s.
To get a better picture of the attraction to this out-of-the-way destination, you can go down into the mine and see the minerals glistening in black light. The $75 fee for that tour includes admission to the museum/ghost town.
Whether you explore the museum or both the museum and mine, plan to spend at least a couple of hours there enjoying a piece of history.
2. See an Aerostat Blimp
Tethered near the Castle Dome City ghost town, an odd shape caught our eye. A 208-foot-long white blimp stood ready to launch in support of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Its mission? In conjunction with nine other Aerostat blimps that form the Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS) — a 10,000-foot-high radar fence — it monitors the Southern U.S. border for low-flying aircraft attempting to smuggle illegal drugs into the country.
The history of TARS dates back to the early 1980s, when the first helium-filled balloon launched in the Bahamas. Today, TARS spans from Yuma to Puerto Rico.
The Yuma blimp is secured near the Yuma Proving Ground. We saw the balloon tied down close to the terrain, as well as extended in the air, above the mountains.
3. Explore the Colorado River
Yuma owes much of its existence and livelihood to the mighty Colorado River, which played a major role in getting supplies to the Army base there in the mid-1800s. In fact, Yuma is the oldest city on the Colorado River, according to Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area.
In addition to providing water for crops grown in Yuma, the largest producer of winter vegetables in the country, the Colorado offers recreational water activities such as canoeing, kayaking, tubing, boating, fishing, and swimming. It also provides a nice setting for picnics, bike rides, and walks.
We reveled in the beautiful scenery while enjoying a picnic lunch, followed by a leisurely stroll along the banks. Gateway Park meanders under Interstate 8, providing panoramic views of the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge, which opened to the public in 1915 as the first highway crossing of the lower Colorado River.
Stretching along the southern side of the river, the park offers walking paths that take visitors across the border to California and back again. We had always thought the river marked the border between the two states. We found out otherwise and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to venture into California without crossing the Colorado.
These are only a few examples of the exploration opportunities in Yuma, Arizona. If you’d like to get up close and personal to a storied past, there’s plenty more to see.
You might also like Driving Across the Border to Mexico.
This is the travel blog of full-time RVers Bob and Lana Gates and our truck, Gulliver, and fifth wheel, Tagalong.