Thursday, January 19, 2006

Touring the Historic Yuma Crossing

Before this river was "tamed" by dams, The Colorado was a wild river. After cutting a deep path through the Grand Canyon, it flowed south, meandering uncontrolled where it at times grew to be 15 miles wide. As it came to what is known as Yuma today, two massive outcroppings of granite narrowed the river into a deep channel 400 yards wide.

The Colorado River effectively caused a division between the east and the west. The only feasible southern crossing was by raft and ferry at this narrow spot. This place became the "Yuma Crossing." In 1877 the first railroad bridge was completed. In 1915 the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge was completed, linking the east and the west coasts to vehicle travel.

This was all fascinating to me as I watched a short movie at the Yuma Crossing State Historic Park. But the most fascinating was yet to come: learning about the Yuma Project and its "Yuma Siphon." It started with construction of the Laguna Dam north of Yuma. The Project was to divert water upstream, regulate water through a canal system in order to get water to California's Imperial Valley and Arizona's Yuma Valley for agriculture. After much study, engineers determined the best method would be to go underneath the Colorado River! In 1912, with diving bells, shovels and concrete, the tunnel was built underneath the river.

The Yuma Crossing was the site of the Quartermaster Depot, used by the US Army to store and distribute supplies for military posts.

The self-guided tour through the facilities was interesting.

The Yuma Project opened a lot of land for homesteading.

During its construction, the Yuma Project received a large amount of publicity heralding the Colorado River as the "American Nile" and Yuma Project lands as among the most fertile in the world, needing only the touch of water. With such widespread advertising, lands opened for homesteading received far more applications than homestead plots available. For at least some of the homestead land openings, a drawing of eligible applicants determined awards for land.

One advertisement boasted: The finest winter climate on earth - a chance for investment, a chance for a home, sunshine the year around.

My morning and early afternoon exploration was by bicycle. I had lunch at a old town deli and then wandered through the area watching vendors get booths set up for the weekend festivities. Mid afternoon I set out on foot to find the WalMart that was supposedly not too far away. Well, it turned out to be a little more than 3 miles, one way - and it didn't have what I was looking for. So, today was a physically active day - 9 miles by bike and almost 7 miles on foot.

Tomorrow the 8th Annual Lettuce Days kick off at 10 a.m. My plan is to take my laptop computer, stopping first at the public library to post to my blog. Then I'll leave my bike locked up at the library, take my computer to the town's Visitor's Center for safe keeping while I roam the vendors and activity areas.


State tree: Palo Verde - green bark, yellow flowers bloom late in Spring

State flower: Saguaro Cactus - blooms in May, opening at night, a few at a time on each plant, and remaining open until mid-afternoon on the following day.

State bird: Cactus Wren - medium-sized song bird. Its song, a repeated chug chug chug, sounds like a car engine trying to start.

State mammal: Ringtail - aka ringtail cat, miner's cat and cacomistle. They are not cats at all; closest relatives are raccoon and coatimundi. Has a large, bushy white and black ringed tail, fox-like face with huge, round eyes. NOTE: I saw a squashed one on I-8 near Gila Bend.

State amphibian: Arizona Tree Frog - small, green, gold or bronze color. Specially adapted disc-like pads at the end of each toe to aid in climbing.

State reptile: Arizona Ridge-nosed Rattlesnake - this beautiful, small snake rarely exceeds 2-feet in length. It is illegal to kill or possess this snake in Arizona.

State fish: Arizona Apache Trout - a beautiful, yellowish colored fish with uniform dark spots on the body. The fins are white or yellow tipped and there is a slash of orange on the lower jaw. It is listed as a threatened species.

NOTE FROM CAROL - please send your comments to me at