I was a 2ish hour drive from Arizona, so I figured why not?
Sometimes the urge to check off a new state/province/country from the bucket list takes over. That, and I reaaaaally wanted to see a saguaro cactus. I know that it’s a pretty weird bucket list item, but I really love cacti.
So, I actually spent the night before frantically Googling “where to find saguaros near Yuma“. I inadvertently checked into a fancy suite in a fancy hotel with a 24 hour Starbucks, and had a caffeine interfering with sleep, so this ended up with my checking Streetview on Google Maps… and then I saw there were indeed saguaros lurking around Castle Dome, a ghost town/museum an hourish from Yuma.
I drove over the mountains and into the desert. I passed some UFOs, Star Wars cosplayers, tumbleweeds, and nudist camps, and made it to Yuma. You guys, the desert is weird. Very weird.
I visited the Yuma Territorial Prison. The prison opened in 1875, and is built out of adobe (the rock, not the software). It was open for 33 years, and housed over 3000 prisoners, male and female alike, during that time. It was progressive in some ways (it had the only library around and a type of natural air conditioning, and inmates could study German), and barbaric in others (solitary was a cage in a dark cave with a tiny hole that guards could fling scorpions or rattlesnakes down…). Often, the women ended up there, because they had no idea where to house them in a men’s prison.
After the prison closed, it housed the local high school for a period. The sports teams are still called the “Crims” all these years later. Part of the prison was demolished to make way for the train tracks, but what’s intact was saved and lovingly preserved by the people of Yuma and worth visiting.
After that (and a quick stop at Target to visit the amazing selection of potato chips that we’re denied elsewhere in the world), I drove to Castle Dome. I had read that the road there was a bit rough for the last few miles , but I’m used to dirt roads.
This was not your normal country road. It wasn’t just the last few miles, it was 20 miles of washboard, eroded from flash floods, suspension destroying road. Through the Yuma Proving Ground. A proving ground, for those like me who hadn’t heard the term, is where the military test weapons. Meaning, most of the time you’re on this remote, car breaking road, you can’t stop. The day I was there, there were tanks and blimps, and warning signs of people testing explosives. I actually was concerned the car was shaking so much I was going to get a concussion (the rental car never was the same after that….). I was so happy to arrive and have it over with that I forgot I had to do it again, later….
But. It’s saving grace? I found my saguaros! And when I got to Castle Dome, they were everywhere in their prickly glory.
Castle Dome Museum is part ghost town part museum, part hoarder’s dream. Some buildings were there, some were nearby, and some were trucked in from other ghost towns. There are some old mine shafts, apparently you can arrange to go down. My personal favourite was the old west-style stained glass, made of beer and wine bottles, in some of the buildings.
I went back to Yuma to recover from the road (read: eat barbecue and drink beer), before heading into the dunes and back to California.
Seriously, Arizona is stunning in a dry, cactus-y way that I wasn’t expecting. A trip to check a state off my bucket list basically made my bucket list grow, because now I want to come spend more time in AZ.