Into The Desert, Part Three

Words by Matt Willis

Last year, we started a series highlighting the vast desert land that makes up most of southwest America called Into the Desert. If you missed the first two parts, you can view them here (Part One) and here (Part Two).  As we continue to explore and expand our travels, I plan to continue the series here on the site as well as publishing some extra content on our up-and-coming sister site, Photomonogatari.

I feel a bit like the late Huell Howser as I write this; in fact, I’m sort of reading back my words in his voice. I grew up watching California’s Gold, and because of my age I thought it was excruciatingly boring. Now, as I go back through some of his travels on YouTube, I sort of realized his vision. Everywhere Huell went, he was always searching for the simple things that so many of us overlook every day. Granted, some of it was too simple, like when he would find a cool pebble or something and revel on and on about it for ten minutes. But, I think overall he just wanted people to understand that there is truly more to life than getting to your next appointment, and most of the beauty was actually in our own backyards. We just have to look.

So last month, I took a couple days to venture out east, past the lower California desert where I had previously explored – with the intent of finding a road less traveled. Following Highway 8 just past the Arizona border, I arrived in the desert community of Yuma, which used to serve a a central stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad. There isn’t much going on here, but it has become (like other desert towns) more modernized over the years with Holiday Inns’ and Wal-Marts and such. It is also the home to a Marine Corps Air Station, which serves as an auxiliary field for much of the military air operations in San Diego and El Centro.

There is a very old jail near the railroad, which was used in the late 1800s. It is also featured in the movie 3:10 to Yuma, and several other classic western films…


The existing Yuma railroad bridge (left) and the highway leading downtown (right) both pass over the Colorado River.


The remainder of the river from Yuma…


I arrived in Yuma late Thursday evening, with the intent of shooting at the MCAS all day Friday. But weather quickly contradicted the plan and rained out the entire valley, so we had a choice to wait out the weather on-base or go find something else to do.


After about an hour of hanging around, the rain was still coming down pretty steadily, so we bailed and hit the road…


Following Quechan Road north, the road comes to a fork where the pavement continues east, and a long, windy dirt road heads north to a seemingly unknown destination. The Arizona-California power lines stretch across this land.



Of course, about an hour after we left the base, the storm blew away and we were left with near-perfect weather (albeit still very windy).



The road took us about twenty miles through desert flatlands and washboard roads until we ended up in this remote canyon.



This is the western-most end of the Picacho Range, which extends well into central Arizona. The rock here is very rich in iron and other ore, which gives it several different hues of color (mostly red, purple and gold).


In the late 1800s-early 1900s, Picacho was a thriving ore mining town by the Colorado River. Today, there is activity in the higher canyons, most milling for core minerals, but the town of Picacho is now non-existent.


After descending in elevation, more cut-away roads like these led us across the canyon floor.



After driving for another few miles, we arrived at the Colorado River, at a collection point called Taylor Lake.



The river against the blue skies, clouds and bright red and purple rock made for some of the most picturesque landscapes I’ve seen.


Since we couldn’t cross the river any further, we took a side road to the east that became very narrow.
















After a long day of exploring, we returned to Yuma for the night and took some time to prepare for the Air Show the next day. For coverage of the air shows and some of my other travels, go ahead and visit our sister page Photomonogatari.

Thanks for reading!

– Matt

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