In glancing through the photos I took in Yuma this past April, memories came flooding back. It’s still hard for me to believe how much we were able to see and do in such a short time. On Friday morning we enjoyed a hearty breakfast at Yuma Landing (damn I miss that atomic sauce) and visited with Dave Mansheim, Manager of the Bard Date Farm and President of the Bard Valley Medjool Date Growers. We followed Dave out to the farm and got a firsthand look at how dates grow. Medjool dates are grown from offshoots, suckers at the base of the “Mother” palm. After ten years the palms reach full production. It’s meticulous work, but the resulting fruit is worth the effort. If you get the chance to visit Yuma, I recommend you visit Basket Creations, run by Dave’s wife Debbie. She can tell you more about Medjool dates while you enjoy a thick and tasty date shake.
After an enlightening visit with Dave in the tranquility of the date farm, we drove across Yuma to meet the owner of the Peanut Patch, Donna George. The George family took over operations in 1997. When it first opened in 1977, peanuts grew on the property. Although they no longer grow here, Donna is a wealth of knowledge about peanuts and she shared the history of the Peanut Patch with us and gave us a great overview of how peanuts are farmed. She ground some peanut butter for us on the spot and then escorted us into her candy factory and gift shop where I saw the biggest slab of peanut brittle I had ever seen. The gift shop is full of tasty and unique gifts.
We made our way to the heart of downtown Yuma for lunch at Lutes Casino. Owned and operated by the Lutes family, it’s not actually a casino at all. Your eyes can’t wander far without landing on a piece of memorabilia. If you look up, you’ll see the lower half of a leg, sporting a shoe, coming out of the ceiling. There are old posters, traffic signal lights. neon lights, cattle horns and so much more. Be careful if you lift Pee Wee Herman’s apron! The drinks were cold and tasty and the menu offered extensive choices, including Lutes Especial, a combination cheeseburger and hot dog. Their potato tacos are outstanding.
We stayed in the heart of downtown, strolling to the historic Yuma Theater. General Manager Patrick Quinn told us the history of this gorgeous venue, dating back to its grand opening in 1912. Within a year a raging fire destroyed much of the theater. It re-opened in 1914 as Riley’s Garage, but re-opened as the Yuma Theater again in 1927. In 1936 another fire caused extensive damage, but it re-opened yet again several months later. Today it’s used for community theater, stage productions, concerts, festivals and the like. It’s a gorgeous facility.
Grace Edgar and her husband own Desert Olive Farms. They produce delicious olive oils that you can sample in their downtown tasting room as well as some tasty balsamic vinegar. The olives are grown in the Sonoran Desert and are bottled by hand. Their charming gift shop also features housewares and cookbooks.
Stephanie McMillin welcomed us to Yuma’s West Wetlands Park. This brand new project is the result of extensive work done by the city to reclaim the wetlands that had been taken over by non-native plants and by transients. This park on the Colorado River had been the city’s unofficial dump until 1970. It’s been completely restored with Centennial Beach being dedicated in early 2014 and the Stewart Vincent Wolfe Creative Playground at the center of the park. While we were there I got the chance to see people strolling, meditating and launching their boats. The city deserves to be very proud of this accomplishment.
We made our way to the Yuma Civic Center where Carrie Ring gave us a tour of this impressive facility. This 34,000+ square foot facility overlooks Desert Hills Golf Course. The Civic Center gives Yumans affordable options for places to host private parties or business meetings with prices starting at $8 an hour. One of the rooms was all set up for a wedding reception scheduled for that evening. There’s a large kitchen for banquets and the center features a full array of technology to meet most any group’s needs.
For dinner we walked next door to The Hills Restaurant Patio and Bar at Desert Hills Golf Course. The 18 hole par 72 course offers sweeping desert panoramas and we were witness to a spectacular sunset. Dinner was outstanding. Starting with the largest shrimp cocktail I had ever seen, served in a giant Margarita glass with multi-colored lights, we enjoyed tender steaks, tasty ribs and seafood. I opted for the bread pudding for dessert and it was every bit as good as they claimed.
This outstanding visit to Yuma had nearly drawn to a close. There were only two orders of business left. After breakfast, Yvonne Peach gave us a close up look at the Casa de Coronado Museum, adjoining their Historic Coronado Motor Hotel. John Peach’s parents built the hotel in 1938 and Yvonne has kept every bit of memorabilia you can imagine from the days it carried the Best Western moniker. She has one of the original Jacuzzis, before they were a built-in. This was a device you actually dropped into the tub. There are letters and souvenirs, all lovingly maintained. It’s a fascinating step back in time and you can get a glimpse of it here.
Last up? My colleagues Carmen, Roger and I were invited to be judges at the Yuma Taco Festival. A celebration of Yuma’s 100th birthday, the festival was held at Desert Sun Stadium. The stadium was dotted with booths selling salsa and souvenirs. Live music included Lonestar and Creedence Clearwater Revisited. When the dust had settled, the three of us had tasted 36 different tacos. I don’t think I’ve looked at a taco since.
Before this trip, Yuma wasn’t on my radar at all. Now I’m wondering when I can return to soak up a little more of the Sonoran sun.