Monday, February 25, 2013

The Oddest Thing We've Ever Seen in the Desert

After four years of construction just north of Yuma Arizona, the Laguna Dam became operational. It was the very first dam constructed on the Colorado River and was built to divert water for the irrigation of many thousands of acres in the desert areas of southern Arizona and California.

In 1938 the Imperial dam was built several miles upriver from the Laguna Dam. That construction made the Laguna Dam redundant and the need for it to divert Colorado River water was eliminated forever.  As with most redundant things in the desert, the Laguna Dam was not destroyed. The dam and many of the works relating to it are still there. Two of those related items are one of the main diversion gates and a bridge leading from the closest road to the top of the dam. They were saved because it was a part of Arizona history.  Many Arizonans didn't want these things saved, in fact, they were many civilian pickax attacks on the bridge and diversion gate. The authorities had to protect these things with armed guards. Now, like most things in the desert than have outlived their usefulness this place is left to erode away. Most of the locals don't even know it's there.

You might be wondering why some people wanted this bridge and gate destroyed.  Well, here are the answers to those questions. 

It doesn't look like anything special from here.

When I saw this, I didn't know what to think...

No matter how you look at it, that bridge is adorned with Swastikas.

Like most of the things we find, this one is also in the middle of nowhere. 

Here is the diverter gate. It looks innocent enough.

Obligatory black and white

 There hasn't been any water in this thing for decades.

A closer look at the gate. The construction date of 1907 is clearly visible. 

I climbed thorough a hole in the fence and climbed out onto the gate to get this photo.

Another Swastika!

 I really liked this view, barbed wire and all.

Another string of them.

Obviously, these things were imprinted into the concrete many years before the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany, but many people around the Yuma area during the war weren't buying it. There were many rumors relating to who did this and why. The truth is that this symbol has been used in many cultures for hundreds of years and was usually thought of as a positive thing. Still, when I saw these things last month, in the year 2013, I FELT them. I can see why people tried to destroy them with picks, but I can also see why they are protected.   

I truly think that this is the oddest thing we've run across in all the time we've spent roaming the deserts of the southwest. It got a lot odder when I was doing some research on the "Swastika Bridge." Authorities in Arizona consider these things to be part of the historical record of their state.  I get that, because these things were built many years before the rise of the Nazi Party. What I don't understand though, is why did they have Swastikas on their state highway signs into the 1940's?

Fact truer than fiction...


Monday, February 18, 2013

You Never Know Who You Might Meet in the Desert

This isn't the post that relates to the VERY strange thing we found in the desert recently. I have to do a little more research because the more I do, the weirder it gets...

Although not as weird as the post I'm working on, this stuff was far from normal! We drove into Yuma just to check the town out. Yuma is a very old and I'm sure you've all seen at least a dozen Westerns that were made about this town, or the things that happened here. As we were driving around we met a couple of people that are the type you can ONLY meet in the desert.

 Meet Muffler Man
Back in the 50's and 60's these guys could be found all over the country. Besides being huge, they also had one thing in common. They all were holding an automobile muffler. They stopped making them in the mid-60's and they are becoming more rare everyday.

Instead of a muffler, these days you might see them holding various tools, candy canes, hot dogs, donuts, weapons, or nothing at all... Somewhere around here I have a photo of one holding a giant corn dog!  

Muffler Man is kind of like the giant donuts that used to be a fairly common sight on top of donut shops. Remember them? They are also becoming very rare. Everybody has heard of Route 66 and all the cool things that it represents, right?  Well, one of America's other great historic roads runs through Yuma. That road is U.S. Highway 80.  Okay, enough about Muffler Man and giant donuts. Ladies and germs, may I present....

Giant Sunglasses Man
We were on our way back to the highway spotted this image sitting in a strip-mall. 

 Check out the drawing of this big headed guy on the sign behind him.

I like the name of the shop as much as the giant head

Is it art? Certainly not in the classical sense, but it is an awesome piece of folk art.  It's going to be an amazing piece of folk art in five, ten or twenty years, when after the business shuts it's doors for the final time and this guy is left in some desert lot or somebody's front yard. Then people will see it and wonder about where it came from and how did it end up where it is then.  How do I know that? I know it because that is exactly what people do with old things in the desert. They either dump them, or just put them out in the yard. Lot's of room and not many neighbors to complain.  The desert doesn't care.  

Don't get me wrong, I love the pristine, beautiful and desolate desert. I also love the outskirts of desert towns like Yuma and the hundreds of small thirsty towns. Each of them has their own beauty, oddities and interesting characters.


Monday, February 11, 2013

The Atomic Cannon - Desert Oddity

Another item that can only be found in the desert....

"Atomic Annie" (real name M65 Atomic Canon) was a piece of artillery manufactured by the U.S. in the early part of the cold war. It was able to fire a 600 pound nuclear projectile about 20 miles. There were 20 of these canons made, but none of them were ever fired in anger.  In fact, only one atomic projectile was ever fired.  That test shot was taken at the the Nevada Test Site on May 25, 1953.

Because of the rapid development and effectiveness of conventional  ground to ground and air to ground missile systems after World War II, the M65 was rendered obsolete even as it was being deployed to sites in Europe and Korea.

If this photo looks phony to you, please watch the very short video that is just below.

Here is a video of it!

The canon is currently sitting near the entry road that leads to the Yuma Proving Grounds. It's one of  largest military installations in the world and extremely isolated in one of the most desolate desert areas anywhere.  
We found some interesting and odd things in the desert on this trip, but I'm holding back the strangest of all for a little while. Still doing some research on it! I PROMISE that you will be as amazed as we were!


Monday, February 4, 2013

Bridge to Nowhere (seriously)

Here are the bridge towers we saw from the small chapel in my last post. Apparently, this was a trend setting Suspension bridge and was designed by the same guy who later designed the Golden Gate bridge. It was named after Henry McPhaul, who was a former Yuma Territorial Prison Guard and gold miner. The bridge replaced the local ferry that crossed the Gila River. It was open for about 40 years.

It was completed in 1929 and wide enough for two lanes of traffic. (photo from

The Gila River flowing under the 800 foot long bridge  (photo from

The bridge today. It's been sitting like this since 1968. Several signs and barricades warn and block people from venturing out on the unsafe structure.

First sign ignored.

Second sign and first barricade ignored.

The all important legal warning. What to do?

Let's see here...  A locked gate covered with barbed wire and another fence topped with barbed wire. Sounds like they really don't want people on this thing.

Only had to climb around the gate and somebody had already cut the fence. I swear it wasn't me!

Okay now! A clear path.

This thing sure has a lot of holes in it and it actually moves when I take a step. Maybe I better stop...

About half way across and there is much less water than in the "before" photo at the beginning.

That is a long way down! I hope my shadow doesn't fall through the hole.

The structure looks a bit like the Golden Gate bridge.

Made it to the other end! Hey wait, there is no road at this end either!

A better view of how messed up this thing is. You can see the ground through all of these cracks. Tricky footing. Add to that they give when you take a step.

It really doesn't seem to come from anywhere and it certainly doesn't lead to anywhere.

There must be at least one B&W.

That may have been a road at one time, but it totally ends after about a hundred yards in the parking lot of a taco stand and little market.  Great tacos by the way.

After I crossed back I wanted to get a better view and did some climbing...

Up these rocks... My wife didn't follow me all the way across the bridge and wasn't very thrilled that I climbed these rocks. She thinks I'm too old and clumsy, but I still have some mountain goat left in me.  Kids, don't try either of these stunts at home! I'm old and not of sound mind, so I have an excuse.