California Dreamin’ – 1982 to 1984 – Chapter 10 – Yuma, Arizona – Rodeo Week

We drove most of the day across Arizona and stopped in Old Tucson. We went there because Frank wanted to walk around an old western town. It had been used in several films in the past and they do daily shows there for the tourists. It was a fun couple of hours, but we wanted to get back on the road after lunch.

Around Casa Grande we exit onto highway 8 west. That’ll eventually take us to San Diego, CA.

We end up in Yuma, Arizona. It’s right on the border of the state of California. We’re nearly there!

Yuma (CocopahYuum) is a city in and the county seat[5] of Yuma CountyArizonaUnited States. It is located in the southwestern corner of the state, and the population of the city was 93,064 at the 2010 census, up from the 2000 census population of 77,515.[3]

Yuma is the principal city of the Yuma, Arizona Metropolitan Statistical Area, which consists of Yuma County. According to the United States Census Bureau, the 2014 estimated population of the Yuma MSA is 203,247.[6] More than 85,000 retirees make Yuma their winter residence.[7]

The area’s first settlers for thousands of years were Native American cultures and historic tribes. Their descendants now occupy the Cocopah and Quechan reservations.

In 1540, Spanish colonial expeditions under Hernando de Alarcon and Melchior Diaz visited the area and immediately recognized the natural crossing of the Colorado River as an ideal spot for a city. The Colorado River narrows to slightly under 1,000 feet wide in one area. Military expeditions that crossed the Colorado River at the Yuma Crossinginclude Juan Bautista de Anza (1774), the Mormon Battalion (1848) and the California Column (1862).

During and after the California Gold Rush to the late 1870s, the Yuma Crossing was known for its ferry crossings for the Southern Emigrant Trail. This was considered the gateway to California, as it was one of the few natural spots where travelers could cross the otherwise very wide Colorado River.

It’s late afternoon, and we start stopping into motels looking for a place to stay for the night. But every place we go to is booked. After about five fails we finally ask why there are no vacancies in this town. We get our answer from one of the motel clerks.

“Because it’s Rodeo Week in Yuma! It’s one of our biggest events of the whole year!”

“Any suggestions?”

Well, I see you have a van parked in our lot.  You won’t find a room for the night in this town. What we’re suggesting to people is this. Get back on highway 10. Cross over into California. The first exit you’l see is called ‘Sidewinder Exit.’ Take that exit. It puts you out in the desert. There should be a bunch of people out there camping.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

We thank her and get back on the road.

We get to that point and I see the exit. The sun is an orange disc the color of a penny in the western sky. I take Sidewinder and it puts us square in the middle of the desert. There are hundreds of vans, campers and RV’s parked everywhere. Couples and families are all out there camping, cooking and drinking and laughing. Children run about playing on the hills around us.

We find a spot, park the van and decide to do a bit of exploring.

I remember us climbing around on this little mountain. The sun is going down. It amazing how fast the Earth turns. You only really notice it at sunset. Because the sun can vanish on the horizon in a matter of minutes.

I tell Frank I’m going back to the bus but he wants to try to get to the top. I tell him I’ll wait for him back at the van drinking a beer.

I get there and relax in the vehicle sipping my beer and smoking a cig.

But about a half an hour goes by and now it’s getting dark. In the desert at night there is no light.  Maybe a few lights you can see back on the highway, but we’re a ways from the main road.

I get out of the van and start calling out to Frank.

Nothing.

Now I’m getting panicky. What if he’s lost? What if he fell and he’s hurt? What if his leg is caught in something and he’s trapped somewhere. What if he’s attacked by a mountain lion or a pack of coyotes? My anxiety is kicking into high gear and my mind is racing.

Then I get an idea. I grab the flashlight from behind my seat. I go back outside and start calling his name again and flashing the light on and off as a signal. I’m calling, whistling and flashing. Praying he’s okay.

Within a few minutes Frank emerges from the pitch blackness and appears in the flashlight beam. I’m so relieved I just grab him and hug him tightly.

“Man you had me so scared!”

“Ya, me too mate! Good thinking with the lamp!”

“Beer?”

“Fuck sake, please!”

We hung out for a bit drinking and laughing about our day, then slept in the van for the night. I thought it was cool that we spent our last night on the road sleeping in the mini bus under the stars in the California desert.

 

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