Yuma County, Arizona, located in southwestern Arizona, is part of the Sanoran Desert. The original boundaries for the county were changed in 1982 when La Paz County was created from the northern half of Yuma County. The county includes the communities of San Luis, Somerton, Yuma, and Wellton.
The population in Yuma County is 207,534. There are 92,441 housing units with 67.4-percent owner-occupied. The median value of owner-occupied housing is $113,400 and the median rent is $831. The median household income is $41,467 and the per capita income is $19,483. Among the residents in the county, 71.7-percent of the population have a high school degree or higher and 14.4-percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher. The average travel time to work is 19 minutes.
Cities in Yuma County
A border-crossing station opened in 1930 in the area of what is now San Luis. The city grew around it and experienced accelerated growth from 1980 to 2005. The economy is based in manufacturing, retail, and agriculture. The city is run by a city manager appointed by the seven-member council. It also has a city attorney, a magistrate, a city engineer, a police chief, and a fire chief. To get around San Luis, you can use Yuma County Area Transit and taxis.
The population in San Luis is 32,446. There are 3,325 housing units with 71.7-percent owner-occupied. The median value of owner-occupied housing is $112,100 and the median rent is $631. The median household income is $31,743 and the per capita income is $10,963. Among the residents in the county, 46.1-percent of the population have a high school degree or higher and 8.1-percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher. The average travel time to work is 25.6 minutes.
Established in 1898, Somerton was incorporated in 1918. Agriculture, tourism, and medical services lead the city’s economy. For fun, enjoy the annual Tamale Festival that raises funds for local students who will be attending Arizona State University.
The population in Somerton is 16,120. There are 1,967 housing units with 69.8-percent owner-occupied. The median value of owner-occupied housing is $112,800 and the median rent is $620. The median household income is $34,318 and the per capita income is $13,511. Among the residents in the county, 52-percent of the population have a high school degree or higher and 9-percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher. The average travel time to work is 23 minutes.
Wellton received its name because it had wells that provided water for the railroad. It is popular with retirees and snowbirds who populate the town’s RV parks in the winter. The town’s two golf courses add to its attraction.
The population in Wellton is 2,882. There are 1,144 housing units. The median value of owner-occupied housing is $127,300 and the median rent is $413. The median household income is $27,045 and the per capita income is $13,644. Among the residents in the county, 76.8-percent of the population have a high school degree or higher and 11.7-percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher. The average travel time to work is 12 minutes
Earliest Settlers — Native Americans
Yuma County was settled by Native Americans. The Fort Yuma Indian Reservation and the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation are part of Yuma County.
The land around the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation belonged to the Quechan. The reservation lies in parts of western Yuma County and southeastern Imperial County, California. Established in 1884, it includes almost 69 square miles, and in 2010 it had a population of 2,189.
The San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation was established in 1872 and is the home of the Chiricahua Apache, Yavapai, and other Apache tribes. At first, it was not a decent environment. However, it now has its own Chamber of Commerce, Cultural Center, Language Preservation program, and Tribal College.
The various Apache tribes, along with the Navajo, originally migrated across the Bering Strait from Asia or, more specifically, from Siberia. This was known as the Athabaskan migration. The migration was named for the common language base that the tribes share.
The Great Plains Indians comprised of the Comanche and Kiowa pushed many of the Apache and Navajo tribes south and east causing them to break into smaller differentiated tribes.
The tribes probably migrated into the Yuma County area around 1400. They were hunters and gatherers, but they learned to grow produce such as corn, beans, and squash from the Pueblo tribes. They learned to herd sheep and goats from the Spanish, and meat became a larger part of their diet. This is also when they developed their culture of spinning and weaving.
Yuma County Under the Spain and Mexico
The Yuma County area became part of Spanish empire and then part of Mexico. After the Mexican-American War of 1846 to 1848 and the Gadsen purchase in 1854, the area became part of the United States.
Yuma County After Acquisition by the United States
The Yuma County area was a valuable acquisition in the building of the southern transcontinental railway line and became part of the Southern Pacific Railroad that was completed between 1881 and 1883.
Ghost towns that were once thriving communities can be found throughout the western states. The ghost towns of Arizona City, Castle Dome, Castle Dome Landing, Colorado City, Dome, Filibusters Camp, Fortuna, Gila City, Hyder, Kofa, La Laguna, Mission Camp, Owl, Pedrick’s, and Polaris are located in Yuma County.
Castle Dome, located in the Castle Dome Mountains, was a thriving mining camp and transport depot in 1863. There were indications that the Native Americans had been mining in the area previously. A processing site with adobe furnaces was found 18 miles south on the Gila River.
From 1863 to 1869, small scale prospecting and mining existed in the area. Larger scale mining commenced in the area in 1869.
The town was first called Pitoti and then renamed Castle Dome. A post office was established in 1875 but closed in 1876.
The mining camp declined but the landing that supplied the mines and transported the ore was the site for a new town named Castle Dome Landing. A post office opened in 1878 and closed in 1884. Castle Dome Landing thrived for six years, until 1884, as a shipping port and a travel destination for local celebrations such as Mexican Independence Day on September 16th.
Castle Dome Landing’s peak population was 3,000. Besides the post office, the town included a hotel, a general store, smelting facilities, and a saloon.
Lead mining brought activity back to the area in 1890, and it lasted until the end of WWll.
Although there was on and off silver mining, the school closed in 1950. The mines closed and the town was abandoned by 1978.
Castle Dome Landing was part of the land flooded for the Imperial Dam reservoir. Castle Dome has been turned into a museum town that includes seven restored and 43 recreated buildings. Included in the recreated town are a hotel, a mill, blacksmith’s shop, and a saloon.
The Castle Dome Museum is located on Castle Dome Mine Road, and the hours of operation are daily from 10 am to 5 pm.
Other Things to See and Do in Yuma County
If you are traveling to Yuma County here are some places you might want to visit.
Old Territorial Prison
The old Territorial Prison opened in 1875. The first seven inmates incarcerated there on July 1, 1876 were locked in cells that they had built. The prison was used until 1909 and housed more than 3,000 prisoners who had been convicted of crimes such as polygamy and murder. The prisoners included 29 women, and 111 prisoners died during their incarceration. Tuberculosis, which was prevalent in the territory, was a large cause of death.
The prisoners were dressed in their undergarments and were fed bread and water once a day. Cells received light from a shaft in the ceiling.
Prisoners had no contact with others and had to obey strict rules. Punishment consisted of wearing a ball and chain or being placed in solitary confinement in a 10-square-foot room and being chained to the floor. There are no records of anyone dying while in solitary confinement, but two prisoners were taken to a Phoenix mental institution after leaving solitary confinement. The prison closed in 1909 due to overcrowding, and a new prison in Florence was built by prisoners.
The old building was used by Yuma Union High School until 1914. It then became a shelter for homeless people.
Legend says that solitary confinement and cell 14, where a prisoner committed suicide, are haunted. Visitors can view the cells, the guard tower, and the main gate. It is located at 220 Prison Hill Road, and the operating hours are daily from 9 am to 5 pm.
The Yuma Proving Ground Heritage Center
The Yuma Proving Ground Heritage Center is located on the site of Camp Laguna, a military training ground that opened in 1942 and closed at the end of WWll. In 1943, the army added the Yuma Test Branch, where military equipment was tested. The Yuma Test Branch was closed in 1949, but reopened in 1951 as the Yuma Test Station. It is now called the Yuma Proving Ground.
The Museum’s exhibits cover the complete history from 1942 to the present. Some exhibits include the Liberation of the German Concentration Camps, the testing during the 1950’s and 1960’s, a tribute to Vietnam Veterans, and a memorial to the victims of 9/11. The museum is located at 301 C Street, Yuma, and its hours of operation are Tuesday through Friday from 10 am to 4 pm.
Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park
The Yuma Quartermaster Depot was the repository for a six-month supply of food, clothing, ammunition and other items needed by the soldiers in the surrounding forts. From 1864 until 1883, this depot supplied forts in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Texas. The supplies were transported to California by ship. Then, either steamboats brought the supplies up the Colorado River to the depot, or the supplies were taken from Yuma to the depot by 20-mule wagon teams.
After the depot closed in 1883, it was replaced by a customs office, a telegraph and weather station, and the Bureau of Reclamation. The park is located at 201 N. 4th Avenue, Yuma, and the hours of operation are daily 9 am to 4:30 pm.
The Cocopah Museum and Cultural Center provides information on the history and culture of the Cocopah Native Americans and includes a park with a traditional dwelling and native plants and trees. The museum opened in 1996 and also offers traveling exhibits. Exhibits include clothing, household items, beadwork, musical instruments, tattoos, and relics focusing on their warriors. The museum is located at 14533 South Veterans Drive, Somsrton and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a to 4 pm.
Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area
The sand dunes in this area are up to 300 feet tall and 40 miles long. Located 20 miles west of Yuma, they are used by off-road driving enthusiasts.
Martha’s Gardens Medjool Date Farm
Martha’s Gardens Medjool Date Farm, located 10 miles outside of Yuma, has 8,000 date palm trees. Nels and Martha Rogers started the 130-acre farm in 1990. There is a 3,000-square-foot store where you can purchase a date milkshake. Tours of the farm are also available. All the dates in the United States originate from 11 shoots brought to Nevada from Morocco in 1927. The farm is located at 9747 S Avenue 9 3/4 East, Yuma, and the hours of operation are daily 10 am to 5 pm.
The Camel Farm
The Saihati Camel Farm is a farm and petting zoo where one-humped camels are bred. The farm also has 200 other animals encompassing 40 breeds. Visitors can closely view ostriches, a llama, emu, sheep, kinkajou, coatimundi, Patagonian cavy, water buffalo, hedgehogs, ibex, wallaroo, miniature donkeys, and a zeedonk, which is a cross of zebra and donkey. The farm is located at 15672 S Avenue 1 East, Yuma, and the hours of operation are October through May on Tuesday through Friday from 9 am to 5 pm.
Popular Activities in Yuma County
The lakes around the Colorado River provide opportunities for fishing, water skiing, and swimming. The Kofa mountain range offers opportunities for hiking and backpacking.
Access to the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge is currently limited. Please follow the latest guidelines if you visit this area.
The Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma offers an annual air show.
In February, the Yuma Jaycees host the Silver Spur Rodeo that opens with a parade and attracts participants from all over the country. This is followed by the Yuma County Fair later in the spring.
Residents and visitors also can go across the border to San Luis, Sonora, Mexico, where they can enjoy shopping, night clubs, and other attractions.