Charlie Flynn took four of us on a walk along Yuma’s East Wetlands beside the Colorado River. He turned to us and said “Yuma isn’t sexy. It’s real.” That sums it up for me. I don’t think I had ever been to Yuma and honestly didn’t know what to expect. After spending four days there, I have no doubt I will return.
After the short three-hour drive, I pulled into the parking lot of the Best Western Coronado Motor Hotel and got a warm welcome from Yvonne Peach. Yvonne and husband John are the proprietors and it won’t take you long to discover they are the city’s unofficial ambassadors. The Best Western Coronado is living, breathing history as we would discover a few short days later on a visit to John and Yvonne’s museum. We gathered at Yuma Landing for hors d’oeuvres and libations. Kilee Hood offered up La Diablita de Yuma, a spicy/sweet cocktail featuring strawberry vodka and jalapeño tequila, while Jeremy Contreras prepared The Chavela, a spicy brew with beer, clamato juice, tabasco, lemon, lime and more. I’ll add the recipes below.
From there we proceeded to the Yuma Art Center to take in a photo exhibit celebrating Yuma’s 100th birthday. Yuma mayor Doug Nicholls was on hand to preside over the event which began with a presentation of colors by the fire department’s pipes and drums honor guard. Seeing all the photos and memorabilia from the Peach’s collection was awe-inspiring. I was particularly struck by the photos of endurance flights, planes that would stay aloft for more than 1,000 hours, getting fuel and food from a chase car on the runway. We walked across the street to Yuma’s Main Squeeze, a custom winery producing wine from grapes purchased from California, Washington and Chile. Owner Fred Earle poured us several selections, very refreshing on a warm Yuma evening.
For dinner we returned to Yuma Landing where we met Chef Thomas Wright, a very soft-spoken man with a passion for the kitchen and a strong desire to see customers enjoy the food he prepares. His spareribs were tender and flavorful, the beans savory and the Atomic Sauce soon became a favorite of mine.
Our first full day was jam-packed with things to do. We got an early start and after breakfast at Yuma Landing we took off for the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park. Guide AJ Mosqueda knew the history of the prison backwards and forwards and we couldn’t have asked for anyone more personable and knowledgeable. Opened in 1876, the prison boasts a colorful history. From the grounds you get a fantastic view of the Colorado River. The prison closed due to overcrowding in 1909 and was the site of the city’s high school from 1910 – 1914. The high school team still proudly bears the name Crims.
We met Charlie Flynn, director of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, at Pivot Point and strolled in the warm Yuma sunshine to see this incredible engineering feat. The name refers to the concrete pivot which allowed the rail bridge trains rode upon to pivot to let boats pass. Flynn is a Stanford grad who says timing is everything. They were able to get substantial funding for several projects he directly oversaw. The East Wetlands area has been transformed with more than 350 acres stripped of non-native vegetation and ‘hobo camps’ and replanted with nearly a quarter-million native trees, plants and shrubs. Perhaps most impressive is the Yuma Siphon, a massive project that began in the early 20th century and functions to this day. The video below will give you an idea of how far ahead of its time it was.
For lunch we sat in the shade at The Garden Café and Spice Company where owner Debbie Gwynn welcomed us and we enjoyed a fresh and tasty meal. My tri-tip salad hit the spot. Here I learned the Yuma is the winter vegetable capital of America. If you’re buying produce in the winter, chances are good it was grown in Yuma.
Ever since I saw the photos of Yuma’s endurance plane the night before, I was intrigued. The next stop was Yuma City Hall, where the City of Yuma hangs on display above a car almost identical to the one used to refuel it. We watched a video featuring the amazing people who were a part of this amazing part of the city’s history.
We met Tina Clark at the Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park for a tour of yet another of Yuma’s many fascinating spots. Used as a storage and distribution hub by the Army in the late 1800s, the depot held a six-month supply of ammunition, food, clothing and more. The depot has been lovingly preserved and restored and five of the original buildings remain intact. After our tour we stopped for pie at with Eva Gaxiola at the Back In Time Pie Shop. I had brambleberry and it was wonderful.
The Quechan Indians are one of twenty tribal nations in Arizona. The Quechan Resort Casino is an ultra-modern facility with a beautiful pool and patio, comfortable hotel rooms, gaming and fine dining. After touring the grounds, we adjourned to a private dining room at the Ironwood Steakhouse. Service was impeccable and the food sublime. I enjoyed Shumai chicken dumplings and had a bite of the bacon-wrapped shrimp. The New York strip entrée with peppercorn sauce was cooked to perfection. After leaving a few dollars at the blackjack table and a slot machine, fully sated, I called it a night. Look for the rest of this fabulous Yuma visit soon.
A Yuma Tradition
Rim Glass with either “Margarita” Salt or Tajin (a chili lime salt).
Lemon & Lime Juice (Fresh squeezed)
Bud Light (or favorite beer of choice)
Start with “rimmed” glass, mix in (to taste) above ingredients.
Fill glass with favorite beer.
Garnish with a skewer of green olives.
La Diablita de Yuma
“The Little Devil of Yuma”
Build in Rocks Glass:
Fill glass to top with ice
Combine in rocks glass:
– 2 oz Strawberry Vodka
– 1/2 oz Jalapeno Tequila
– 1/2 oz Cranberry Juice
– Splash of Lemon Juice
– Fill to top with Strawberry juice and stir
Garnish with Chinese Chiles (to look like horns),
found at any local Asian store.
Tom Plant launched WINEormous in 2009 and is a member of the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association. Based in Temecula, California, he offers intimate winery tours for no more than seven people. Tour details and pricing are available at www.temecula-tours.com. Call now to book your Temecula Winery Tour at (951) 907-9701! Ask about special discounts.