Downtown Yuma is very walkable, or you can move around easily by vehicle, too. Hitting all the historic sites in the downtown area is not hard to cover in a day or two, and it’s guaranteed you’ll learn a few things you didn’t know about Yuma along the way.
Historical attractions include the Sanguinetti family home which is now a state historic site. Imagine life in the home of the general store merchant during Yuma’s early days, with the thick adobe walls and low ceilings. Walking tours may be available through the Sanguinetti House—check the Events Calendar for more information. Downtown Yuma’s buildings that had been wedding chapels tell tales about famous Hollywood stars who came to Yuma to wed, and the Pivot Point Interpretive Plaza details how the first railroad train came into Arizona from California in 1877, then was turned around to go back across the new bridge. The Yuma Art Center shows contemporary local and regional art pieces in a beautiful, soaring gallery. Next door, the Historic Yuma Theatre presents live performances of all kinds, but its original décor that dates to 1912 is just as fascinating. The nascent Children’s Museum of Yuma County offers educational and interactive displays for children.
A little farther from downtown, the Ocean to Ocean Bridge is a beautiful sight when it’s lit at night, and its story goes back to the opening of the way across America by motorcar. At the nearby St. Thomas Yuma Indian Mission there is a statue of Franciscan Father Garces who traveled on his favorite mule many times between Mexico City and Monterey, Calif. The plaque there pays tribute to him being slain in Yuma in 1781. Two other statues, one commemorating the Mormon Battalion and one recognizing the first flight into Arizona in 1911 by pilot Robert G. Fowler, who rented his biplane from the Wright Brothers, can be found around town. The Endurance Flight took flight to a whole new world record, with a convertible car speeding along under the low-flying plane, to lift up cans of gasoline and food to the two pilots who kept the plane aloft for 47 days straight in 1949.
Standing guard above the “The Narrows” of the Colorado River is the Yuma Territorial Prison. Its use was short-lived, only 33 years between being built and its last prisoner leaving, but it’s etched into the history of the west due to many movies such westerns starring John Wayne and more recently, 3:10 to Yuma. Exhibits covering the River at the Colorado River State Historic Park tell the story of the mighty Colorado and 20th Century damming which leads to our ability to live and farm here today. Learn more about the Yuma Siphon, an engineering marvel which is still at work today. That facility’s former use at the Army’s Quartermaster Depot for supplying most of the southwest is interesting too.
Venturing slightly out of town, don’t miss the Cloud Museum, Tiny Church or the Museum of History in Granite. Castle Dome Mine Museum is well worth the trip, to see the well cared for ghost town. You also don’t want to miss the extraordinary underground Hull Mine, which offers up a fabulous display of rare, naturally-occurring fluorescent minerals when UV light is shown on the mine walls.
Connections To History
1398 York Road, Winterhaven, Calif., CloudMuseumDynamiteDave.com 928.919.5508
One person’s junk is another picker’s treasure, and this place is full of pure gold, baby! Rows and nooks and crannies with more than 90 Model T Fords, vintage vehicles, every kind of truck that hauled anything, antique tools, old gas station signs, so many wheels (wagon and newer), and bathtubs(?). This is a bona fide bargain at $5 for admission; the price of getting an inside view of Johnny Cloud’s mind and why he collects all this: priceless. From Yuma, take 4th Ave. across the Colorado River, turn right on S24 and follow signs to Imperial Dam; museum is on the east side of the road.
Early roots of aviation in Yuma
--First Flight/Yuma Landing
The first plane to land on Arizona soil touched down in Yuma in 1911. Robert G. “Bob” Fowler was flying from California to Miami in an open-cockpit biplane with an engine rented from the Wright Brothers (can you imagine?). A state monument marks the spot, along with a statue of Fowler. Don’t miss photos highlighting Yuma’s early flight history and more at the nearby Yuma Landing Bar and Grill.
Casa de Coronado Museum
233 S. 4th Ave., CasaDeCoronadoMuseum.com 928.783.4453
Located in Yuma’s first “modern-style” motel, which opened in 1938, this small museum boasts a lot of original photos and memorabilia showing Yuma’s early history in tourism and aviation. From a family motor hotel to one of the first Best of the West brand which became Best Western hotels, to returning to family-run historic lodging is shown in attractive exhibits at the Historic Coronado Motor Hotel, call ahead to arrange a visit, no charge.
Pivot Point Interpretive Plaza
Madison Ave. at Colorado River, 928.373.5198
Learn more about the historic Yuma Crossing at the spot where the first railroad train entered Arizona in 1877. This public park incorporates the original concrete pivot that allowed Yuma’s railroad bridge to swing open for passing steamboats and features and authentic 1907 Baldwin locomotive.
Sanguinetti House Museum and Gardens
240 S. Madison Ave., ArizonaHistoricalSociety.org 928.782.1841
The museum’s house and gardens were home to E. F. Sanguinetti, Yuma’s “merchant prince,” one of the first proprietors of a general store in Yuma’s tiny downtown along the riverfront. Back then, it was dirt streets and no refrigeration; homes like his brought a bit of civility and refinement to life in those days.
Admission is $6, $5 for seniors. Enter through Jack Mellon Mercantile, which offers southwestern inspired gifts.
S. Avenue 13E, north of U.S. Highway 95
The “Pause Rest Worship” miniature church was constructed in 1995 by Loren Pratt as a memorial to his late wife. Since then it has garnered considerable media coverage and has taken on precious meanings to countless roadside travelers and locals who go there for a moment of reflection. The Pratt family holds special Easter services, which are open to the public, atop the mountain behind it. With wood pews seating no more than a dozen people, and measuring 8 by 12 feet inside, this quiet spiritual spot is recognized as one of 60-some tiny churches across the United States.
Yuma City Hall
One City Plaza, YumaAZ.gov 928.373.5021
Visit the restored plane named the “City of Yuma” that was flown nonstop by pilots Woody Jongeward and Bob Woodhouse from August 24 to October 10, 1949—48 days in the sky! The flight set an endurance record and focused the attention of the nascent aviation history on Yuma. Volunteers made the feat possible by *handing* the pilots food and fuel from a speeding convertible. A car of the same make, model and vintage is also on display. View the plane and free exhibits during regular city hall hours, call for schedule.
Mormon Battalion Statue
West Wetlands Park, 928.373.5204
In 1846, the Mormon Battalion was tasked with finding a southern route to California. Its record-setting, 2,000-mile march passed through Yuma because this was the best place to cross the Colorado River. The U.S. Army of the West Mormon Battalion Foundation erected a bronze statue in 2007 to commemorate the historic journey. Find the statue on the river side of the main park road, near the elevated iron footbridge.
Museum of History in Granite and Center of the World Pyramid
Felicity, Calif., HistoryinGranite.org 760.572.0100
And then there’s this ambitious outdoor attraction, which aims to artfully capture the whole history of the world on etched granite panels...There’s also a pyramid that marks the designated “Center of the World,” a French-style chapel, a staircase from the Eiffel Tower, a Maze of Honor where personal memories can be preserved for the ages with the purchase of a granite plaque. There is an admission charge, and there is a bistro and gift shop. Open Thanksgiving through March; self-guided tours on the “honor system” the rest of the year. During the fall and winter season, the Museum of History in Granite offers dinners and wine tasting events, as well as events like the Annual Reunion of Sport Parachuting. New this year is their Official Center of the World chocolates, give them a try!
This marks the spot where…
More than a dozen historical markers help to tell the story of Yuma’s earlier peoples and events. Here are eight that are within a mile of Historic Downtown Yuma, good for either a brisk walk or touring by car.