Snowbird getaway beckons sun-seekers with clear skies, cool activities and compelling frontier history
Yuma is located in the southwest corner of Arizona and, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is the sunniest place on earth. Of the possible 4,456 hours of daylight each year, the sun shines in Yuma for roughly 4,174 hours, or about 94 percent of the time.
Yuma is one of the hottest cities in Arizona, with average high temperatures in July of 107. Average January highs are around 70. Thanks to the warm winters, the city's population of 94,000 nearly doubles with the arrival of sun-seeking snowbirds during the peak travel months of January, February and March.
Yuma is located near the confluence of the Gila and Colorado Rivers on the border with California and near the border with Mexico (the state of Sonora lies to the south, Baja California to the west). The Colorado River, which defines the border between Arizona and California, runs along the city's northern edge.
Yuma is nearly equidistant between Phoenix (178 miles) and San Diego (180 miles); also within a radius of just over 300 miles are Tucson, Las Vegas, Mexicali, Palm Springs and Los Angeles.
Interstate 8 runs through Yuma; more than 9 million cars annually enter Arizona from California on the highway. Highway 95 runs north to Interstate 10 and south to the Mexican border.
Main Street has always been a center of activity in Yuma, dating back to the days when it was the end of the Gila Trail. During 1849, more than 60,000 travelers heading to the California gold fields followed Main Street to the rope ferry that would carry them across the Colorado River.
The last decade has brought new life to the old downtown and the riverfront. Milestones include a new city hall and restoration of the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge (both 2002), the debut of the Yuma Art Center in 2004, and the reopening of Main Street to vehicle traffic in 2007, with a "convertible road" that accommodates a variety of festivals and events.
The Historic Yuma Theatre, originally built in 1911, was a vaudeville theater before it was converted to a movie house. Now restored, it serves as the centerpiece of the art center and hosts a variety of shows. The Yuma Theatre also houses a Kilgen pipe organ, one of the most expensive pipe organs ever made. It was originally played to accompany silent films.
Popular downtown restaurants include Lutes Casino, Carla Renee's, Da Boyz and the Lighthouse Coffee Bar & Bistro.
Yuma boasts the Paradise Casino, with other casinos in nearby Somerton, Arizona, and Winterhaven, California.
The "ghost train" arrives hourly at Pivot Point Interpretative Plaza, where Madison Avenue meets the Colorado River. It's hard to miss since a very real steam locomotive sits on the original track alignment. But as kids clamber over the 1907 Baldwin locomotive, a 21st-century audio system re-creates the sounds of a passing steamboat, the swing-span rail bridge cranking open and the arrival of a train at the old Southern Pacific Hotel.
After dark, two laser beams trace the rails' path out across the river, while a cascading water feature at the plaza's edge recalls the long-ago bankline. (Please note, because the lasers need to be chilled to function properly, they don't operate during the hottest months).
The plaza preserves one of the few remaining artifacts of the original rail line: the concrete pivot on which the rail bridge turned to allow boats to pass.
But it's also a scenic outdoor museum, with colorful panels that explain the importance of the Yuma Crossing National Historic Landmark.
A stroll around the plaza is a walk through local history, sprinkled with lots of fascinating photographs and interesting stories about the community.
The multi-use pathway system along the riverfront connects to Pivot Point, plus there's a pedestrian link to Gateway Park. Bring a picnic and enjoy the view. Pivot Point Interpretative Plaza is a city park, open daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park features the famed prison that housed 3,069 prisoners over its 33-year span. Despite its reputation, the prison was a model institution for its time and because it boasted electricity, running water and flush toilets. Some Yumans even called it "the country club on the Colorado."
Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park
Another historic site in Yuma is the Yuma Quartermaster Depot, which for nearly 20 years, beginning in 1864, supplied all the military posts in the Southwest. Here on the high ground above the Colorado River, the U.S. Army's warehouses held a six-month supply of clothing, food, ammunition and other goods for forts in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Texas. Supplies were transported by as many as 900 mules and their teamsters. Ocean vessels brought goods to the Gulf of California, where they were loaded onto steamboats for the trip upriver to Yuma. Supplies were unloaded here, then shipped farther upriver or overland in wagons pulled by the 20-mule teams of Western lore. With the coming of the railroad in 1877, the depot's supply role faded and the Army closed it in 1883.
About 60 miles northeast of Yuma lies the Kofa Mountain Range and Wildlife Refuge, home to one of the larger Desert bighorn sheep ranges.
Mittry Lake just north of Yuma is a great location for small game hunting and sport fishing. Its public land is available to the public for recreational purposes.
For More Information:
Yuma Visitor Information Center
Arizona Office of Tourism