Thursday, November 1, 2012

DAY 71- Yuma Memories & Casa Grande Ruins…

The night before, when I got to the hotel I felt like it was being invaded there were SO many military guys in the lobby areas.  Yuma has an Air Force Base and a Marine Training area nearby.  In fact, I found myself with three military guys going up in the elevator after dinner.  As they stepped out of the elevator I heard them say see you at 5:30AM.  Shortly, before 5:30AM, I woke to what sounded like a herd of elephants going through the hotel.  There was no need for an alarm of any kind this morning.
Photo- The outside of Lute's Casino with the BEST Burgers in town.

I asked directions from the clerk at the hotel where the main traffic street was.  She directed me to 4th Ave in Yuma.  I drove over to 4th Ave and was amazed what I could remember about being in the area about 20 years earlier.  Yes, I know I’m probably disclosing my age by saying that.  I came to Yuma about 20 years ago on three separate occasions for Spring Breaks from college.  My mom and her second husband were “snow birds” and came to Yuma each year right about Thanksgiving and then stayed through until early May.  They totally avoided the cold wintertime of Iowa; not that I blamed them.  It gets DAMN cold in Iowa in the winter time.  But the nice little upside for me was that I got to escape the Iowa winter for a little over a week too.
Photo- Yuma's Old Town Main Street.

I wandered down to the Old Town Main street area where I remember years ago shopping and grabbing a burger at Lute’s Casino which advertise the best burger in town and have had some famous customers.  There’s art galleries, antique shops, woman’s boutiques, and restaurants scattered along the main street and in little courtyards just off the street area with fountains.  A nice little quaint area that has seen better days but still has things going on.  It was early enough that most of the places were closed and I just did a lot of window shopping.  They were having a children’s art festival and the Yuma Art Museum looked to have tons of children’s art on display.

Next, I drove down 4th Ave towards where my mom and her husband lived; going by the first Wienerschnitzel I had ever eaten at and the first drive thru liquor store I had ever seen.  This part of Arizona seems to love their drive thru liquor stores.  I continue driving out by the Yuma International Airport which always makes me laugh because it has three outside gates where passengers walk through and up the stairs to their planes.  The reason it’s International is because of the Air Force Base and not because of the actual airport.  I also remember Yuma’s quirky ½ Avenue streets like Avenue 3 ½ E.
Photo- Mom! It's the old stomping grounds.

Next it was time to head further east and I jumped onto I-8.  I drove through the mountains into Dome Valley.  I continued driving through a very barren area where the exit signs warn that this is the last services for 26 miles or 32 miles.  I am glad I fueled up before I left Yuma.  Next, I’m out in the middle of nowhere and there’s signs about all vehicles must stop.  There’s speed limit signs that seem to drop 10 miles every 10 ft.  It was a Border Patrol check stop.

Okay, this time I’m going to play it straight and no teasing.  I pulled up to the stop and the border patrol guys said hi and asked how I am doing today.  Then, he asked what all I have in the back.  I told him I have camping equipment, clothes, and a bicycle.  I’m on a road trip I said.  He asked if I was having fun and I said yes.  Well, that’s great he said.  He wished me a fun road trip and waved me on.  Well, that was a much better experience than the last one.  Maybe I just got a cranky border control officer the last time.

East, I continued.  The landscape started to change and I was seeing tall armed cactus popping up everywhere.  I was now driving through the Sonora Desert.  I stopped at a parking area to give my legs a break and took a couple of pictures, of course.  Then, I continued on to the town of Casa Grande which was where I would be spending the night.  I arrived with an hour’s time to spare and decided to just drive around and check out the place a bit.  There seemed to be an overabundance of medical places; cancer and cardiovascular centers.  I discovered a visitor’s center and stopped.

I asked the gal what there was in the area to do and she quickly directed me to the Casa Grande Ruins and also mentioned about a rock church and that the world competition for skydiving was going on in the area too.  And here I was told that this was a nothing town by a friend.

Off I went following here directions to the Casa Grande Ruins which were about 19 miles away.  I found myself driving along on a two lane highway heading east and driving through cotton fields.  They grow cotton in Arizona?  I knew the south grew cotton but Arizona.  I was a bit surprised.  I drove through the small town of Coolidge which is the actual town that the Casa Grande Ruins is in; a bit strange that it’s not the town of Casa Grande.
Photo- The National Monument grounds surrounding Casa Grande.

Good News!  If you have a National Parks pass you can get into Casa Grande Ruins National Monument on it too.  I showed my pass, got in, and went to the theater to watch the 20 minute film that starts every half hour.  Then, I went out to the actual ruins.
Photo- Casa Grande Ruins.

The main part of the ruins are about 4 stories tall and about 60 ft. wide and stand in an area of very flat and unforgiving landscape.  There are shorter and smaller ruins all around.  The main structure; the Casa Grande as it’s called, was built by a Sonoran Desert Indian people that the archeologists call Hohokam.  It was finished around 1350 CE (current era).  The compound of these ruins was home to upwards of 2000 people at the height of this civilization.  A civilization that they believe existed since 300 CE and had also built an elaborate irrigation system for farming in the area. 
Photo- Casa Grande Ruins up close where wood and
metal help support and preserve the structure.

They are unsure of what the actual Casa Grande structure was used for.  There’s a hole in a wall that lines up setting sun at the summer solstice and there are other holes that line up with the sun and moon at other specific times.  It’s similar to Stonehenge in a way.  The Casa Grande structure was completed shortly before the civilization’s downfall.    
Photos- Other smaller ruins that surround Casa Grande.

It was still fascinating just walking around and through some of the ruins; to be walking among something that was that old.  It was very peaceful and quiet.  I was the only one out there among the ruins at the time but I swear that when the wind blew I heard voices talking.  The Indian descendants, the Hopi and the Zuni, believe it is a holy and mysterious place of their ancestors.  Periodically, the descendants hold events near the ruins.  There are other ruins all throughout the desert area as far north as Flagstaff but the Casa Grande are the best preserved of them.  In fact, in 1892 it became legally protected and shortly after that became one of the first National Monuments of the US.

Next, I was racing the sun to get back to my hotel and get checked in.  I had asked the desk clerk if there were any brew pubs in the area that were good and he said there wasn’t any.  Ok, so maybe there really wasn’t that much in Casa Grande after all.  I opted to just go to the bar lounge in the hotel for dinner.  I sat at the bar and had dinner.  The place started to get a few more people; mainly guys that were traveling for business.  I ended up striking up a conversation with a guy named Ray who was a married man from Indianapolis.  He was in town working on helping a local assembly company refigure their assembly line.  He explained that what he did was called feed bowling and then attempted to explain the specifics to me.  I got lost!  But you could tell that he just loved what he did and that was just wonderful. 

Terri the bartender was quite the character and she could dish it out as well as she could take it.  It was funny just listening to the guys; quite a few of them regulars that were giving her a hard time.  All of us were cracking up and it was real fun with just the 9 of us at the bar.  As the night waned a little and some of the guys left, I talked with Terri.  I told her what I was doing and the next thing I know she’s writing down a list of places for me to visit in Tucson; where I would be going next.  She even wrote down from memory the Yellow Cab number on the Menu Ticket she gave me.  Terri is a native of Tucson and knew the area well and yes, quite a few on the list were bars.

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