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West is best; Jon Perks goes back in time to the not so Wild West in Arizona.

Byline: Jon Perks

he West, it seems, was not as wild as Hollywood would like us to believe.

TAt Castle Dome Mines Museum, for instance, they have a display case of perfectly preserved tinned foodstuffs - which look pretty appetising in the 21st century.

They also have what is said to be the oldest known pair of Levi's - which co-owner Allen Armstrong has dated back to 1890; they too, look in good nick and comfortable too.

The museum has been lovingly and brilliantly put together by historian Allen and his archaeologist wife Stephanie; imagine the Black Country Museum transported to the middle of the Arizona desert and you're halfway there.

He has reconstructed a collection of buildings from around the area in the shadow of Castle Dome - a prominent rock outcrop which dominates the skyline - to create a highly credible mining town, as it might have looked 100 years ago.

You half expect Clint Eastwood to appear in the saloon doorway, spurs clinking on the planked walkway.

Every building is packed with period paraphernalia - from the denim jeans and tin cans to miners' suitcases of belongings, a dining table laid out - and the general store stocked ready for business.

For $10 to visit both parts of the museum, it's amazingly good value and enjoyable - like much of Yuma and the surrounding area.

Movie fans will know the name Yuma from the two films that bear its name - the 1957 Glenn Ford original and Christian Bale/Russell Crowe remake of The 3:10 to Yuma.

While they can't promise shoot-outs down the main street (happily), Yuma still has a few delights for Wild West aficionados, in particular the Yuma Territorial Prison.

It was only operational for 33 years, but still boasts its fair share of great tales of notorious inmates like Pearl Hart (one of only 29 women incarcerated there), thrilling escapes and botched breakouts.

The displays of photographs, stories and memora-bilia are fascinating - but nothing beats walking round the place itself, particularly the ''dark cell'' where prisoners were sent as punishment and the guard's tower overlooking the entrance.

Due to overcrowding, the prison was closed down in 1909 and a new facility built in nearby Florence; the old prison was later used for a handful of years as a school - whether the shackles were re-introduced is unclear.

Another great taste of yesteryear is aboard the Colorado King Sternwheeler, a 57ft-long paddle steamer which takes guests along a remote stretch of the Colorado River, complete with homecooked meal and live music entertainment from Jack Jackson and fiddle player Armand Pelletier.

A wonderful way to spend an afternoon in the sun. The three-hour trip with lunch will cost you $57.

Yuma is so much more than just a look back at America's pioneering past, however; food looms large in its present day incarnation, from the acres of agriculture surrounding the city to the wonderful meals awaiting at its restaurants and cafs.

Yuma is the winter vegetable capital of the US and exports wheat to Italy for premium pasta - it's also responsible for a huge amount of cotton production, water melon and an incredible 80 to 90 per cent of the salad consumed in the US between November and April.

That's a lot of lettuce. If you like your food, then head for Main Street Caf, Somerton, for one of their regular cookery lessons, or for wine lovers, Yuma's Main Squeeze is a must.

A custom winery, it imports its grapes and then produces and bottles its own wine on site, which you can both drink there and buy to take home.

Perhaps if it'd been around in the 1800s there'd have been fewer shoot-outs and not so many men pushing up daisies in Boot Hill.

Head down to the river by the Hilton Garden Inn and you'll see just how Yuma is changing; the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area has seen a huge amount of riverside redevelopment, making the area perfect for an early morning walk to catch the sunrise.

Nearby, just outside the hotel, is a restored locomotive which marks the spot where the first railroad train entered Arizona in 1877; at night, lasers beam into the darkness to mark where the original track and bridge would have been.

Another local food stuff is the date - the Medjool date, to be precise.

Pay a visit to the family-owned Imperial Date Gardens for a brief tour, a freshly served date shake (incredibly sweet but surprisingly refreshing) and, of course, a bag of dates to take home. Delicious.

Breakfasts in Yuma are no less impressive - and no less in size - than any other meal in Arizona.

The Garden Caf on South Madison Avenue is a fine example, with huge platters of eggs, toast and their famous local spicy Kammann sausage to enjoy in the sun.

If there's a better way to start the day, I have yet to experience it.

The Wild West? Wonderful West, more like.

Travel Facts Jon flew to Phoenix from London Heathrow with British Airways;Yuma is under 200 miles away by car.

He stayed at the Clarion Suites, 4th Avenue,Yuma. For more information on Yuma and SW Arizona go to www.visityuma.com or www.arizonaguide.com Yuma Territorial Prison: www.pr.state.az.us/parks/yute/index.html Castle Dome Mines Museum: www.castledomeminemuseum.com Imperial Date Gardens Inc: www.imperialdate.com Yuma River Tours: www.yumarivertours.com Garden Cafe: www.gardencafeyuma.com Yuma Crossing Heritage Area: www.yumaheritage.com Yuma's Main Squeeze: www.yumasmainsqueeze.com

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The Castle Dome Mines Museum in Yuma is an authentic recreation of life out west in the late1800s The Colorado King Sternwheeler which sails the Colorado River
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:1U8AZ
Date:Apr 21, 2011
Words:948
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