Day 2: Oct. 11, 2003
Over the Mountain



I had noticed a museum last night and decided to take a look as I headed out of town. An opening time of 8:00 appeared on a sign and that was less than ten minutes away. I decided to wait and spent some time rambling around the parking lot. The museum shares a building with the city administration building. Toward the rear of the building, I spotted some workmen in a garage area and verified that the museum was open on Saturdays. Sure enough, when I returned to the entrance, a lady was making final adjustments on the windshield sun guard in her SUV and soon unlocked the door. After a reasonable wait, I walked through the open door. The entrance area includes a gift shop and behind that the museum consists of a single large room with displays lining the walls and filling the center. Nice displays of local history including the 1851 massacre of the Oatman family from which the route 66 town of Oatman eventually took its name.

US 80 uses Painted Rock Road to cross under I-8 so an approximate 10 mile side trip from either route will reach the Painted Rock Petroglyph site. A small boulder covered hill contains a very heavy concentration of petroglyphs. An adjacent campground is available for longer visits.

Roadside collections of defunct vehicles seem fairly common on western two lanes but this one tugged at my eye more than most. For one thing, it contained quite a few buses and other large vehicles and seeing the boat stranded in the middle of the desert was the clincher. I turned around, got a few pictures, including that boat and a wrecker that, despite its weak cosmetics, appeared quite serviceable. Then, just as I was executing another U-turn to continue on my way, a faded yellow mid-80s Oldsmobile broke from the automotive assortment. At first, I thought it planned to ram me but it backed off and I widened my turn. I resisted the desire to speed off as the car swung around behind me. I saw that the car contained an elderly couple and, though still questioning my own sanity, I slowed, then stopped, then got out. "What's on your mind?" the driver asked as I approached the car. I told him I had been looking at the pair of "woodys" on the trailer. I learned that the driver's name was Luther and that he was tired of people just poking around. By way of learning my occupation, Luther motioned toward the cars and busses and said, "This is what I do. What do you do."

As we talked, the passenger twisted around to see my face. She seemed about the same size & age as Granny Clampett and just about as trusting. Talk returned to the "woodys" and Luther told me that the last restored one he had seen had been valued at $35,000. He figured his were worth $5000 apiece. They're complete, he says, and very rare. No quantity discount. One for five, two for ten. I have Luther's phone number if anyone's interested.

In Tacna, the post office was open but little else was. I thought of starting some sort of postmark collection but the plan wasn't well formed and I let the chance slip away. Down the road, the town of Wellton seemed both a bit larger and a bit more prosperous. I even found that elusive breakfast spot at Cathy's Cafe and enjoyed a meal prepared by Cathy herself.

As Yuma drew closer, I occasionally found my brain humming, "Johnny Yuma was a rebel" but I couldn't think of one more fact about Johnny and the only thing I knew about the city was that a lot of TV & movie bad guys spent time there. It turns out that the territorial prison, retired shortly before Arizona became a state, is still a major feature of the city. There is a museum and visitors can even walk in and, thankfully, out of some of the six man cells. Something that I found surprising was that electric lights were in use here even before the nineteenth century ended.

Until the railroad came to town in 1877, supplies for the region's military posts were floated on the Colorado River to the Yuma Quartermaster Depot. Many of the depot's buildings remain and the whole affair is now the Yuma Crossing State Historic Park. The reservoir and storehouse are pictured here along with a couple of the machines that helped make the depot a thing of the past. That Model T is sitting on top of a piece of the original plank road that once crossed the desert west of here.

When it opened in 1915, this bridge across the Colorado replaced the last ferry required to travel from Atlantic to Pacific. The big "Ocean to Ocean Highway" on the side of the bridge gives a hint of just how significant this was.

The great expanse of sand that was crossed only by those planks, eventually gives way to boulders and then to serious mountains. The planks have been replaced by asphalt.

Climbing the slopes means using the expressway since US-80 has not just been replaced by I-8 through this section. It has actually turned into it. Just before the In-Ko-Pah exit, which would lead back to US-80, I spotted a rock tower and just had to turn back toward it once I was off of the interstate. In the 1920s, San Diego mayor Bert Vaughn got things started by building the inner tower. In the '30s, W. T. Ratcliffe carved many of the boulders near the tower into the weird & wonderful creatures that are now there. In the next decade, Dennis A. Newman completed the tower as a viewing platform and tourist attraction. At least for today, it was Ben who collected entry fees and provided information about the tower, the carvings, and the region. I do not know Ben's official tower connection but if he's there when you visit, he can probably answer any question you have. A pretty friendly guy, to boot.

The same Bert Vaughn who built the Desert View Tower also once owned the town of Jacumba. Some business remains in the town but remnants of buildings comprise some of its more interesting parts. The closest US-80 comes to Mexico is near this bridge just west of Jacumba. The international border is just about a hundred yards in the distance.

Back at the tower, I had purchased an Old US 80 guide by Eric J. Finley. Without it, I would have been completely unaware of this short drivable section of what Finley calls "old, old US 80". The first picture was taken facing west; the second east.

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