We left Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and drove west along Highway 8 to Painted Rock Petroglyphs Campground. The campground featured – not surprisingly – painted petroglyphs on rocks, some dating back a thousand years. Two red-suited archeological teams were surveying the area while we were there so it seems they’re still trying to figure it all out. Common sense suggests that a group of early ne’er-do-well gatherers decided to tag these rocks while some of the more affluent hunters were busy out in the desert. Just pre-modern graffiti…
We drove on to Yuma, which is in the southeast corner of Arizona, bordering California and Mexico, and sits at the confluence of the Colorado and Gila Rivers. Yuma is the only all-service town in the region, catering mostly to retirees who want to enjoy 350 days of sunshine. During the winter months, Yuma’s population swells with Snowbirds, causing traffic jams with their massive slow-moving RVs and long line-ups at all 4 Walmarts in town.
There wasn’t a whole lot to see downtown other than the famous Yuma Territorial Prison. On July 1, 1876, the first 7 inmates entered the prison at Yuma and were locked into the new cells they had built themselves. Thus began the legend of Yuma Territorial Prison. A total of 3,069 prisoners, including 29 women, lived within the walls during the prison’s 33 years of operation. The prison was nicknamed ‘The Hellhole of the West’ because of scorching summer temperatures as well as the infamous solitary ‘dark cell.’
Like most US state historic sites, Yuma Territorial prison was excellent – the museum, film, exhibits and grounds were all very interesting.
A really fascinating aspect of the prison was the fact that in addition to some of the west’s most despicable male prisoners, they also had women inmates. None were more notorious than Canada’s own Pearl Hart. Pearl was born in Canada in 1871 but made her way down to Phoenix by the time she was 16. She spent much time with gamblers and musicians but everything would change when she met up with a drifter, Joe Boot.
On May 30, 1899, Pearl, dressed as a man, and Joe Boot held up a stagecoach near Florence, Arizona and stole $421. They were soon captured and Pearl was sent to Tucson for trial. She managed to escape and was later re-captured in Deming, New Mexico. Pearl received 5 years at Yuma Territorial Prison. She managed to serve 3 years before being paroled – not for good behaviour, but because she was too troublesome to the other female inmates. After release, rumours swirled about her whereabouts. Some said she joined a Vaudeville act, while others say she travelled with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. No one knows for sure but the ‘Arizona Bandit Queen’ has been the subject of movies and TV shows for years.
From Yuma, we went north about 60 miles to Quartzite. We had heard lots of weird things about Quartzite before arriving but it was truly a bizarre place. Put simply, it looked like a post-apocalyptic world full of retirees and their 40 foot rigs, along with their Mad Max dune buggies, living out in the rocky desert. There were thousands and thousands of them. And they all seemed to be attracted to the 9 day ‘Sell-o-Rama’ tent sale in town, featuring hundreds of booths on all things related to retirees and RV living (RV parts and accessories, cheap clothing, pain relief and other sorts of junk).
We were particularly amused at the line-up to get your teeth whitened in just 15 minutes…
After visiting ‘downtown Quartzite’ we drove out to one of several tracts of designated Bureau of Land Management land. Basically miles and miles of open desert. Here you can stay for up to 14 nights for free. There aren’t any services, and few redeeming qualities other than the price. It was like camping in a large gravel pit with some scrub brush and a few cacti. Some people live down here year-round, even when the temperature gets up to 120F. Funny enough, it was hard to pick a place to set up. It all looked the same, yet we kept driving around looking for something a bit different. There wasn’t any. It all looked like this, as far as the eye could see.
People seem to sit out in the desert, occasionally exploring for rocks and gems with their ATVs, and generally while away the days. We said it before – it was a very unusual and strange place. A couple of nights were enough for us (maybe because we didn’t have a cool little 4×4 vehicle to mindlessly roam around the desert). But one thing’s for sure – if Trump starts a nuclear war, these people will surely survive. And this will be the future of the human race…