Arizona: Southwest by Southeast

Heading back to Arizona from California, the last two stops of our 3-week trip were in Yuma (far southwestern corner); and Sierra Vista (far southeastern corner), where Philip was to participate in a three-day bike touring event. It was fun to be a part of the first-ever, inaugural “Tour de Zona,” organized by the excellent folk who have put on the Tour de Tucson since 1983.

The ride consisted of three daily outings: one to Ramsey Canyon Preserve outside Sierra Vista (29 miles); one a loop to Bisbee (65 miles); and one out-and-back to Tombstone (36 miles).

Riders, including this handsome fella, set out bright and early each of the three mornings.

The rides were quite challenging. In particular, the route to Bisbee had a 18-mile-long steady 4-6% grade climb. It’s hard to complain though, when some people were in their 80s, some were on low-rider recumbent bikes or striders, some were young teens, some were veterans missing a limb … you get the picture … everyone just trying to do their best and enjoy some great Arizona scenery along the way!

Each evening, everyone gathered at the park bandshell to enjoy hours of live entertainment, food trucks and a beer garden, and lots of friendly camaraderie with the 700 people (and assorted doggies) who came from 36 different states to participate, or to root on somebody who was.

All activities and housing were at Sierra Vista’s Veterans Memorial Park, a very nice place with an indoor waterpark and pool, which allowed all the riders to use their locker rooms and showers if they wished. Many riders camped in tents, but over 100 RV’s, including our Elsie, were lined up around the perimeter of the large, clean and safe municipal park.

Fun Fact: Sierra Vista has the distinction of being the site of the first McDonald’s drive-thru, which opened in 1975. The owner wanted to gain the business of the soldiers from nearby Fort Huachuca, but at the time they were not allowed to wear their military fatigues off base with the exception of driving or riding in a car! Hence the drive-thru! Anyhow — we RV’ed to Bisbee and Tombstone back in 2014; if you’re interested in visiting either (or both!) of them, check out the posts here:

Before arriving in Sierra Vista, we first passed through Yuma, Arizona. “Pass through” Yuma is all most people want to do, for this mostly unattractive desert and agricultural locale. Yuma is the sunniest year-round spot in the nation, with 93% of its days featuring full-fledged sunshine.

The #1 activity for visitors to Yuma is the Yuma Territorial Prison, a fascinating glimpse into the rough-and-tumble days of the early Arizona Territory.

With cells carved from rock, and a reputation as one of the most haunted places in the U.S., YTP housed some of the West’s baddest and boldest from 1876-1909. Like this guy!

Yuma Territorial Prison has a spiffy little museum with clever displays, such as this holographic depiction of the prison cemetery, which is just down the hill and which is the harsh final resting place of 104 hardened criminals. Now you see him … now you don’t!

Of particular fascination is the “dark cell,” where the naughtiest were sent for up to 100 days at a time. Stripped to their underwear, chained where they stood, in complete and utter darkness, with no bathroom facilities … well, you can only imagine.

A cage instead the dark cell allowed guards to enter with the one slice of bread and cup of water per day; legend has it that guards threw scorpions in, joking that their glow would provide the inmates with a little light.

It wasn’t all bad, however… this prison was concurrently called the “Country Club of Yuma” because of its many firsts … this prison had the first library, first air conditioning, and first hospital.

Due to my ongoing and inexplicable fascination with criminal justice, we’ve visited lots of prisons museums ….

…. but the one you absolutely DON’T want to miss, is the Ohio Reformatory where the popular 1994 movie “Shawshank Redemption” was filmed! Read more about it here!

Besides the Yuma Territorial Prison, another reason to stop in Yuma was to score me an “Especial,” something I haven’t had in decades. My dad lived and worked as a school superintendent for the Yuma High School “Criminals” (yep, that is their real mascot) in the 1980’s. When I was in my early teens and would take the Greyhound Bus down to visit him, our first stop was always Lutes Casino for this unique food item.

The Especial is basically a combination hamburger and hotdog, both griddled up hot and greasy, topped with a slice of American cheese, thrown on a bun and covered with hot sauce. It is simultaneously as delicious and as disgusting as I remember it being, 41 years ago. The story goes that the owner and a friend were drinking tequila and arguing about which was better, a hamburger or a hotdog, and finally decided to put them together and they started selling like crazy. The rest is Yuma legend, as much as anything coming out of Yuma can be legendary.

Lutes is not a real casino, at least not anymore, with the only gambling that goes on now being the sale of state lottery tickets. But go way, way back to 1920, and this place was the Casino Billiard Parlor, later adding dominoes and making it perhaps the only domino parlor in the state.

Lutes has lots of history hanging on its walls and from its ceiling; though they no longer have the bras and panties hanging from the rafters, that they used to have, a source of many giggles with my brother at the time.

An additional curiosity is the window into the men’s room door. It was reputedly added way-back-when “so nobody can sneak up and shoot you” while you’re doin’ your bidness. Yep … you can see in, if you dare!

Before dinner at Lutes, stop into Red’s Birdcage divey underground bar a few doorways down, for cheap beers and even more history … though this is a “young’un” at only 50+ years old.

And thus ends this three-week trip through Southern California and Southern Arizona. We’re heading home for the next six weeks, an important part of which is celebrating our grandson Connor’s first birthday! Then, we’ll leave the Phoenix heat behind for the summer, visiting the northwest and a few more National Parks and monuments, including Theodore Roosevelt, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Jewel Cave and Devils Tower, as well as a full month in Colorado. Till then!

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