In Arizona’s West Coast region, Yuma is home to two intriguing collections. The Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park housed its first prisoners in 1876. Its thick walls and eagle-eyed guards made it a legendary place to be incarcerated, but it operated for only 33 years. Today it’s open to visitors, from cell blocks to guard towers. The onsite museum includes artifacts and photographs of people who cooled their heels here. (Come on Sunday from October through April for Old West reenactments.)
Also in Yuma is the Sanguinetti House Museum and Garden, an adobe home built in the 1870s. The addition of a garden and aviaries inspired by trips to Italy by a pioneer merchant made the house a refuge. The complex now houses a museum on the history of the lower Colorado River area, and the garden and aviaries have both been lovingly preserved.
Casa de Coronado Museum
233 S. 4th Ave. Yuma, AZ (928) 783-4453
When the Coronado Motel opened in 1938, it was the state of Arizona’s first “modern-style” motel, with side-by-side rooms instead of tourist cabins. But owner John Peach’s roots go even deeper – his parents started in the hotel business here in 1910, just off the boat from Czechoslovakia. You can see this collection of vintage photos and artifacts free, just call ahead to arrange a visit.
Castle Dome Mines Museum
Off Highway 95 north of Yuma (928) 920-3062
At one time, the population of Castle Dome City far exceeded that of Yuma. But when the mining boom faded, so did the once-rowdy town. Now Allen and Stephanie Armstrong have re-created a ghostly mining town of nearly two dozen buildings in a pristine desert setting surrounded by nearly 700,000 acres of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. Each building – from hotels and saloons to a blacksmith shop and general store – is pretty much a self-contained museum, filled to the rafters with authentic artifacts. In addition to the museum, there’s a self-guided hiking trail through the mining district is now open, offering creative signage and beautiful desert views. Adult admission is $6 for museum, $6 for trail or $10 for both; kids 6 to 12 are $3 for museum, $3 for trail or $5 for both; kids under age 6 are free. Both the museum and the trail are open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week from November through April (call ahead May through October). To get there, take Highway 95 north to Castle Dome Road (mile marker 55) and continue east for 10 miles (first three miles paved, then graded gravel; watch for signs to museum).
1398 York Road Bard, CA (760) 572-0188
Taking a walk through the three acres of the Cloud Museum is literally a stroll down memory lane. Among the 115 vintage vehicles are more than 75 Model T Fords, all in running order thanks to owner Johnny Cloud. Open seven days a week except in hottest months, admission $5. From Yuma, go north on 4th Avenue across the Colorado River, turn right on S-24 and follow signs for Imperial Dam; museum is on east side of road.
Cocopah Museum and Cultural Center
County 15th & Avenue G Somerton, AZ (928) 627-1992
The Cocopah – the River People, in their language – have made their home along the lower Colorado River and its delta for more than 3,000 years. At the museum, you’ll get a chance to learn about their ways of life and traditions. There’s also a gift shop featuring original beadwork by Cocopah artists and other items. Open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (closes 2 p.m. on last Friday of each month), closed on weekends. Admission free (donations welcome); guided tours available by appointment.
Tacna, AZ (928) 785-4013 or (928) 503-0168
Spread over 10 acres, Wendy Dobson’s 40-year collection of antiques is arranged as a miniature old town, complete with working blacksmith shop, barber shop, school room and house. Dobson opens by appointment any day except Sunday and requests a donation, call to set time and get directions.
First flight / Yuma Landing
195 S. 4th Ave. Yuma, AZ (928) 782-7427
The first plane to land on Arizona soil touched down in Yuma on October 25, 1911. Robert G. “Bob” Fowler was flying a biplane with an engine rented from the Wright brothers from California to Miami. A state monument marks the spot, along with a new statue of Fowler that was dedicated in spring of 2010. Don’t miss the Landing’s photo collection highlighting Yuma aviation history.
18765 Highway 95 Gadsden, AZ (928) 627-2159
Want to know more about the little town of Gadsden? Check out the home museum created by Luis Gradias – historic photos and artifacts, a little Southwestern town, and a small petting zoo. Hours are irregular, so call ahead; donations are welcome. To get there, take Highway 95 south from Yuma, look for signs.
Gold Rock Ranch Museum
2401 Gold Rock Ranch Road Winterhaven, CA (928) 920-0603
This museum includes outdoor story boards that describe the Tumco gold mine, plus indoor exhibits about local history and mining, the desert and Gen. George Patton’s World War II training sites. Open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., no admission. Take Interstate 8 west to Ogilby Road, then north nine miles to Gold Rock Ranch Road, turn left and go 1-1/4 miles west.
Museum of History in Granite And Center of the World Pyramid
Felicity, CA (760) 572-0100
A unique attraction that welcomes visitors from Thanksgiving to Easter, the Museum of History in Granite captures the history of humanity and other subjects on 18 massive monuments that hold 3,080 linear feet of etched granite panels. The Los Angeles Times calls the work “meticulously researched and condensed” — to read every word will take you a full six hours! There’s also a bistro and gift shop, a wrought-iron staircase from the Eiffel Tower and The Church on the Hill atop the manmade Hill of Prayer. The officially designated “Center of the World” figures into a children’s book authored by Felicity’s mayor and founder, Jacques-Andre Istel, a French-born veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who was a pioneer of free-fall parachuting. Admission is a $3 donation, which is tax-deductible and includes a short video presentation, for an additional $2, tour the pyramid and get a certificate that you stood at Center of World. Call ahead for hours and other details. Take I-8 west to Sidewinder Road (exit 164), then follow Center of the World Drive along the north side of the highway.
Mormon Battalion statue
West Wetlands Park Off river side of main road, look for an elevated iron footbridge
In 1846, the Mormon Battalion was tasked with finding a southern wagon route to California. Its record-setting, 2,000-mile march passed through Yuma because this was the best place to cross the river. The U.S. Army of the West Mormon Battalion Foundation erected a bronze statue in 2007 to commemorate the historic journey.
Pivot Point Interpretative Plaza
Madison Avenue 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. The new plaza incorporates the original concrete pivot that allowed Yuma’s railroad bridge to swing open for passing steamboats and features an authentic 1907 Baldwin locomotive. Don’t miss the “ghost train” audio installation that re-creates the arrival of a steam locomotive and the lasers that after dark trace the path of the tracks across the original bridge.
Sanguinetti House Museum
240 S. Madison Ave. Yuma, AZ (928)782.1841
This onetime home of a Yuma pioneer and entrepreneur, E.F. Sanguinetti, is one of downtown Yuma’s oldest and most historic buildings. Now headquarters for the Rio Colorado Division of the Arizona Historical Society, it’s a museum showcasing Yuma’s earliest days, with rose gardens and an aviary. Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Free for children 11 and younger; $2 for those ages 12-18 and 60 and older; $3 for everyone else. Two for one admission the first Tuesday of every month.
Quechan Tribal Museum Gift Shop
350 Picacho Road Winterhaven, CA (760) 572-0661
Because their home territory included the Yuma crossing, the Quechan tribe has always been at the crossroads. The museum that details the tribe’s history is closed indefinitely due to structural concerns, but a gift shop featuring items made by tribal members is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to noon, and from 1 to 5 p.m. The gift shop is on Mission Hill, cross the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge from Yuma and look for signs.
St. Thomas Indian Mission
350 Picacho Road Winterhaven, CA (760) 572-0283
The present-day church was built in 1922 on the grounds of the original Mission founded by Father Garces in 1780, but is not open for tours. The church is part of the diocese of San Diego, call for schedule of masses, other parish activities.
Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park
201 N. 4th Avenue Yuma, AZ (928) 783-0071
For nearly 20 years beginning in 1864, all the military posts in the Southwest traced their lifelines to the Yuma Quartermaster Depot. Here on the high ground above the Colorado River, the U.S. Army’s warehouses held a six-month supply of clothing, food, ammunition and other goods for forts in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Texas. This beautiful 10-acre park also includes exhibits describing the amazing engineering feats that brought irrigation water to the Yuma Valley – under the Colorado River – in 1912. Open 9-5 daily October through May, closed Mondays June through September.
Admission $4 for adults (14 and older), $2 kids ages 7-13, free for kids age 6 and younger – 1/2 price for active-duty military, plus spouse & children. Other pricing may apply during special events.
Yuma Proving Ground Heritage Center
Yuma Proving Ground (928) 328-3394
The Army opened the Yuma Test Branch in 1943 because the Colorado River’s flow could be controlled, making this an ideal location to try out bridging equipment. This museum also has exhibits on General George S. Patton’s Desert Training Center and recently became the permanent home of an exhibit about the Holocaust. Open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., admission free. Entrance onto the base requires a picture ID, vehicle registration and proof of insurance. Take Highway 95 north to “big guns,” turn left to Main Post entrance on right.
Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park
Giss Parkway and Prison Hill Road (928) 783-4771
The Yuma Territorial Prison only operated for 33 years – but that was long enough to etch a fearsome reputation into the history of the Old West, a legacy that lives on in movies like “3:10 to Yuma.” Authorized in 1875 with a construction budget of $25,000, the prison opened in July of 1876 when the first seven prisoners were locked into cells they’d hacked out of the granite of Prison Hill with their own hands. Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily October through May. Call for summer hours, usually closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays June through September.
Admission $6 for adults (14 and older), $3 kids ages 7-13, free for kids age 6 and younger – 1/2 price for active-duty military, plus spouse & children. Other pricing may apply during special events