First stop Yuma Arizona.
Well, actually, this is the second time in Yuma. We were here over New Year’s Eve in what could have been called our final shakedown cruise had I gotten around to writing that blog. But, there was so much stuff to get done around the house in preparation for our departure into full timing that it just slipped through the cracks. A poor excuse if I ever heard one!
Josh, who lives in Chile, asked us what there was in Yuma and blithely I told him “rednecks”. That was an unfair comment as Yuma has turned out to be a little jewel in the southwestern desert of Arizona. Tons of vegetable growing with the agriculture fueled by water from the Colorado river, the growing season lasting from the end of the scorching summer to its beginning the following year. It is the third largest vegetable producing area in the United States with a majority of the crops being from the leafy varieties, mainly lettuce, but also broccoli, cauliflower, spinach among others. It also has a ton of orchards that grow lemons, tangerines and a bunch of melon varieties. It also grows a substantial amount of wheat, a large portion of which is exported to countries such as Italy for the production of pasta!
We really liked Yuma the first time we were there, and decided to make that our take-off point for our trip around the United States.
Aside from the agriculture, which in truth originally held no real interest for us, there is a ton of things to do and explore in Yuma and its environs. I guess the most striking thing to see are the Imperial Sand Dunes which are actually located in California just across the border. These sand dunes are the largest in the United States and measure some five miles wide and over twenty miles in length. As we came down from San Diego (a bad way to go to Arizona) through the southern part of the Cleveland National Forest and hit the desert floor after El Centro, there was a vast panorama of sand dunes loaded with every type of off-road vehicle imaginable swarming all over the dunes raising plumes of dust. Like an army of ants! Their home bases were “wagon trains” of huge 45′ RV’s with their toy haulers huddled in circles like in the old western days, twelve to fifteen to a circle with a huge campfire in the center. I’m sure there were large and loud and most likely rowdy parties at night. No sighting of Ward Bond for those of you old enough to remember.
Felicity is a dot on the atlas as you pass through California, framed by a lone church sitting atop a lone dune (man-made as it turns out) in the middle of the desert almost to the Arizona border. Intrigued by the church, we pulled off I-8 and went to Felicity, a town with a population of I think 3 , and which claims itself to be the “Official Center of the World” although there are claims elsewhere (more accessible) to also be the center of our world. It’s a weird story, the town founded by a marine who served during the Korean War and discovered this god-forsaken stretch of desert and fell in love with it. The guy was a quasi nut case, but deep down meant well and has managed to establish in this little part of the world a town “dedicated to remembrance, fulfilling our mission to unveil the planet’s highlights of the collective family of humanity.” Wow, I’ll take a percocet and let that one mingle around my psyche. But as you read on, the guy really is harmless and he has started to fill the place with a bunch of history. Really kind of interesting at the end of the day and not James Jones-like at all. Google “center of the world”.
Yuma boasts some 350 days of sunshine a year, making it very warm in the summer, but delightful in the fall, winter and early spring. There are innumerable numbers of RV parks, stocked with snowbirds from the north and Canada, although Canadians are finding it a bit more difficult to afford the United States these days. Yuma also boasts the largest number of golf courses within the city limits in the southwest, from Championship courses to executive par threes. It is the desert, and the wind does blow at times so it can be challenging. We played a course located near the Civic Center appropriately named Desert Hills which was a little long for us at 6300 yards, but still with very pretty rolling fairways and immaculate greens.
Yuma is spread out over the desert floor and to be honest the town’s fathers have not yet instituted comprehensive zoning so every time we thought we were in God’s little green oasis, there was a not so desirable enclave right next to it, and the opposite held true as well. Nevertheless, it was very interesting to see the diverse communities, especially coming from such a homogeneous place like Orange County. There was a fair at the Civic Center one Saturday that featured the Yuma Annual Salsa Festival and Taco Contest. Whoa, a lot of Southwest culture going on here…we chose the Mad Tacos booth which had really good tacos, but I overheard locals saying that the only real way to do a taco contest was to try at least three to four different booths. We were happy with one. This is also where we saw our first “open-carry” fellow, although it wasn’t certain whether he was part of the festival or just a private citizen. Being a semi-transplanted product of the 60’s whose beliefs have moderated only slightly, I really didn’t want to get into any debate with this guy.
Culinary wise, we did set up our kitchen. Part of this journey is to show that one can cook any meal you want while on the road. Maybe not 3 star quality but certainly well enough to pique the curiosity of your next door neighbor. For those who know my obsessions, I had at one time had over 180 herbs and spices in jars – so many that one of our neighbors in Rancho Santa Margarita asked where we stored canned goods and other food. I had to whittle that collection down to 120 which was a very difficult thing to do. My daughter-in-law Lynn’s Dad, Bob Happel, made me two boxes to store all the spices in, each consisting of six rows of ten jars. OCD I know, but I am the Spiceking! I also brought along some of my Le Creuset cookware augmented with a couple of basic pots and pans. In addition to the stove, oven and microwave that came with the RV, we also have a Breville convection oven that is the perfect size for two. Can’t wait to do our first roast. A little extreme you might say, but it’s all part of the culture we are developing. Sightseeing, cooking, hiking and photography. We shouldn’t get too bored. Here are two of the recipes we have cooked so far. Both turned out delicious! sausage and butternut squash skillet supper and chicken in mustard.
We also went out one night to a local Chinese joint, Lin’s Grand Buffet, which surprised the hell out of us. It was a huge buffet style place, a place that normally makes me leery because the entrees are usually lukewarm and tasteless, but this place was excellent and crowded, always a good sign. We didn’t get to any other eating places, but this is certainly worth a stop. We plan on Yuma being part of winter sojourns, so we will try more authentic local fare the next time.
Still with me? Almost done.
Another local attraction was the Arizona Marketplace, a collection of booths inside a tented building, filled with shops galore of every knick-knack and redneck tchotchkes you could ever want. People watching was fun, the shopping was unique and we left without buying a single thing. Next door was a golf liquidation center where I thought for sure I could drop a little of my hard-earned social security money, but there wasn’t a thing I could find. Nada.
Ten miles to the south of Yuma is the Mexican border town of Los Algodones, unremarkable except that it has evolved into the center for RV’ers medical fixes. Dentists and optometrists abound in this small dusty town, some 300 of each profession, charging for their work at 25% to 30% what you would pay in the United States. Fillings are $25, prescription glasses cost around $100 with an eye exam. It isn’t for the fain of heart, because in all honesty the storefronts are dirty and and the shills are incessant. But if you do your research, and choose wisely, you will get as good a care as you would at home. For RV’ers who full-time and are not covered by Medicare yet (health insurance for full timers under retirement age is very expensive and limited) this is their medical heaven. Prescription drugs cost pennies on the dollar and all are the same name brands that you find in the States. I needed a new pair of sunglasses, $120 with an exam, and I loaded up on 6 months worth of pills that should sustain me well. Of course, if this blog ends you will know that I made a colossal mistake.
One can’t go to Yuma without stopping at the Yuma Territorial Prison, a rather imposing place (as all prisons are wont to be) that has been resurrected from the trash heap by the local fathers and turned into a a tourist attraction that brings in a considerable amount of money to the local coffers. The museum is very interesting and the the inmates were a collection of colorful albeit mostly dangerous characters. An interesting little bit of knowledge is the local high school’s nickname is the Crims, and they are undefeated in all sports. The movie 3:10 to Yuma is based on this prison, the comings and goings of that train documented well.
And finally, we went off to Mittry Lake Wildlife area just outside of Yuma and located on the lower Colorado River. It includes some 3000 acres of water and marsh, home to numerous fish species (there was a bass tournament the day we were there) and vegetative and wildlife species as well. It is surrounded by three mountain ranges, lying on the desert floor and providing unique camping, fishing, swimming and boating opportunities. This is why we’re doing what we’re doing – finding little gems like Mittry Lake that we would never have had the opportunity to see had we not embarked on our journey. Mittry Lake was a beautiful little spot of American geography.
Jan and I never get tired of sunsets, and there are some gorgeous ones out west. The rookies that we are, and I mean total rookies in this RV life, we sit in our chairs, and watch the sunset and muse about what we have seen and done that day. My pappy used to say that there is no such thing as an experienced traveler and in the short time that we have been on the road we have learned a few lessons the “easy” way, fortunately. So we have decided to have a little part of the blog we will call “lessons we learned today”. Number one is to check the Breville oven before turning on to be sure the instruction manual is not inside. New car (coach) smell gone! Number two do not attach laundry bags to shower faucets. Self explanatory! Number three is make sure all cupboard doors are secured, especially the one over the driver where the Direct TV receiver and Blu-Ray player are stacked. Ouch. Another vodka please!
Next stop Benson Arizona.