Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area comprises five sites related to the history and heritage of the Colorado River, in Yuma, this a major city in the settlement of the West, set as it still is along major cross-country travel routes. The actual crossing was initially by ferry, later via road and rail bridges, and is also significant for representing a transition from the great inland deserts to the east and the mountains and ultimately the coastline to the west, though the foothills are still 80 miles distant.
The five sites are almost contiguous, along the south bank of the Colorado, adjoining the Arizona stateline, though including small sections in California, as the course of the river, which defined the boundary, has changed slightly over the last century. From west to east, they are as follows: West Wetlands Park is a sizable band of cottonwoods and another vegetation, plus a few pools and flooded ditches, crossed by paths. Colorado River State Historic Park (formerly Yuma Quartermaster Depot SHP) is a 19th century army depot, with original buildings and other historic exhibits. Pivot Point, location of the first rail crossing of the river, now has a preserved 1907 locomotive and a short section of original railroad track. Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park, features most of the buildings from an infamous jail, in operation from 1876 to 1909. East Wetlands Park, is a larger, less developed area of woods and marshland, on both sides of the river.
Fees are required for the two state historic parks; other sites are free to enter. All can be seen via a walk of around 6 miles, round-trip, or they can be visited individually.
The heritage area is partly administered by the National Park Service, but the individual sites are owned and managed by the state.
Map of Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area
West Wetlands Park
Extending for 1.3 miles along the Colorado River, West Wetlands Park is a relatively recently-created environment, from 2002 onwards, occupying ground formerly used for landfill. Most of the section closest to the river is wooded, with large cottonwood trees, plus various bushes and grasses, including some invasive species like giant reed and salt cedar. A broad path parallels the river bank, and other routes criss-cross the woods. There are frequent access points to the water. Other facilities in the park include a butterfly garden, a small lake, ramadas, a children's playground, and a memorial to a Mormon battalion who crossed the river near this point in 1846. The park is served with a large parking lot, along Water Street
, off 12th Avenue, and a spur leads to a boat launch site at Centennial Beach
. East of the beach, the park is less developed and more wooded, compared with the larger area to the west.
Colorado River State Historic Park
Colorado River State Historic Park contains the old quartermaster depot, established in 1864 to supply army bases across the Southwest, with clothing, ammunition, equipment and food, all brought up the Colorado River by boat, and distributed overland by wagons, plus other boats further upstream. The depot was in operation only until shortly after the arrival of the railroad, in 1880, after which the site was later used by the Signal Corps, the US Weather Service and the US Border & Customs Service. The surviving buildings became Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park in 1986, renamed in 2007 to better reflect its overall significance. The ten acre park contains five original buildings plus other exhibits including a Southern Pacific Railroad coach car (#1643), a steam boiler and several covered wagons.
Pivot Point is very close to the quartermaster depot, separated by a Hilton hotel; a small place, close to the river, commemorating the Southern Pacific Railroad that arrived in Yuma in 1877. The name refers to a huge pivot, still intact, that moved the original rail swingbridge across the river, to allow passage of large boats. There have been three rail bridges over the Colorado; the current one is a quarter of a mile east, after the line was moved here, on higher ground, to be less affected by floods. Exhibits at the point include a short section of original rail line, and a preserved locomotive, number 2521.
Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park
East of Pivot Point is the riverside Gateway Park, then Interstate 8 and then Penitentiary Avenue, which crosses the Colorado River on the historic Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge, the city's first road crossing, constructed in 1915; also the first through truss bridge in Arizona. Bordering the avenue to the east, atop a small sandstone bluff, is Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park, protecting the remnants of a prison that was opened in July 1876 and closed in 1909, its inmates moved to a much larger facility near Florence. The main structures are cells, exercise yard, guard tower and sallyport (secure gateway), plus a cemetery, which contains 104 graves. Entrance is from the south, along Prison Hill Road, and some parts can be seen without payment; fees allow access to the building interiors.
East Wetlands Park
Below the prison bluff stretches the East Wetlands Park, a mix of cottonwoods, willows, marshland and open, sandy places, extending nearly a mile. The place is ringed by canals and ditches and is more wild, less visited than the West Wetlands. A 2.6 mile lollipop loop crosses the park, partly alongside the Colorado River and partly across the wooded interior.