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No sense of Yuma? Stop for fun, lots of history.

PERCHED ON THE BANK of the Colorado River at the southwestern tip of Arizona, Yuma has been a stop for desert travelers since the mid-19th century. Today, when motorists on Interstate 8 hit Yuma, they often pause only long enough to gas up.

Yet Yuma, with its rich history, mild winter climate, and outdoor recreation opportunities, merits a longer look. Expect November daytime temperatures in the 70s or warmer.

The Colorado River is the reason Yuma exists. The settlement is named for the various Yuman tribes who fished the river and hunted in the surrounding desert. As forty-niners rushed to California, those argonauts who followed the southern route had to travel through Yuma, ferrying across the river here to reach the Golden State. In the 1850s, as steamboats plied the lower Colorado, Yuma became a busy river port and a military supply hub.

For a sense of 19th-century life, head down to the river at Yuma Crossing, where you can meet a costumed pioneer in a re-created 1850s emigrant camp and tour the restored Quartermaster Depot, which supplied military posts from the 1860s to 1883. The complex is open 10 to 5 daily. Admission costs $3, $2.50 seniors, $2 ages 6 through 15. Special living history programs are scheduled for October 28 and 30, November 25, and December 3 and 4. For details, call (602) 329-0404.

Nearby, at Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park, you can see the roofless main cellblock, where inmates slept behind 3-foot-thick granite walls. Between 1876 and 1909, this calaboose held more than 3,000 prisoners. The park is open 8 to 5 daily. Admission costs $3, $2 ages 12 through 17.

Across the river, on the California side, follow Indian Hill Road to the Quechan Indian Museum, whose building dates from the mid-1800s, when Fort Yuma occupied the site. Exhibits show the artifacts and culture of the Quechan, a Yuman-speaking tribe. The museum is open 8 to 5 Mondays through Fridays, 10 to 4 Saturdays. Admission costs $1, free for ages 11 and under. Nearby stands the beautiful St. Thomas Indian Mission, a Roman Catholic church.

If you reserve ahead, you can join a Yuma River Tours narrated cruise upstream into the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge, where you'll see hundreds of birds and may spot bighorn sheep. A half-day cruise including lunch costs $32 per person; call (602) 783-4400.

Plan an early-morning or sunset walk at the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area in California, about a 40-minute drive northwest of Yuma. The rippling dunes at Algodones Outstanding Natural Area there are closed to off-road vehicles. To get there from Yuma, take I-8 west to the Ogilby Road exit and go north on Ogilby to California Highway 78, which will take you west across the railroad tracks into the natural area. The area north of the highway is closed to vehicles. Before you go, call the Bureau of Land Management at (619) 353-1060 for rules and safety information.

Yuma has plenty of motels. For lodging and dining options, call the Convention & Visitors Bureau at (602) 783-0071.
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Title Annotation:Yuma, Arizona
Author:Hanson, Roseann
Date:Nov 1, 1994
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