By Karen Harris, special to the Yuma Sun
"How did I get this lucky to get sent to Yuma in July?” Bryce James asked after a recent whirlwind tour of Yuma.
His friends thought they were sending him to a prison in the desert as punishment. Little did they know, the Yuma Territorial Prison has not had inmates since 1909.
If there’s one thing anyone knows about Yuma, it’s about the infamous prison, and everyone darned well knows Yuma is hot in the summer.
A bunch of friends in eastern Washington state have a fantasy football league with the loser getting a round-trip, one-day vacation to a place chosen by those who didn’t lose.
James, the “loser,” arrived at the Spokane, Wash., airport at the appointed time last week, and his friends texted him his boarding pass: He was being shipped down to Yuma. Arizona. In the Sonoran Desert. In July.
A couple hours later, Bryce deplaned at Yuma International Airport and walked up to the rental car counter. While he was getting his car, he asked them what there is to do in Yuma. They directed him to the Visitor Information Center, run by Visit Yuma staff at the Colorado River State Historic Park, 201 N. 4th Ave.
At the visitors center, he met Jennifer Tobin and Leslie Fain, Visit Yuma’s office manager. They asked him what he was interested in doing while he was in Yuma. He said he didn’t know, and he didn’t know anything about Yuma. He asked what they recommended for him to do for the day.
He explained that seven of his buddies had sent him to Yuma that morning on a lark. James had the fewest points in their fantasy football league.
“I was busy finishing up my physician assistant program rotations, so I didn’t make a single substitution throughout the season,” James said. “So I lost.”
The deal in the league, comprised of six former college roommates and one other friend, was that the loser would be sent 24 hours to a place chosen by those who didn’t lose. James was a good sport.
“I tried to pack for whatever I could possibly need,” James said. He brought shorts, but was he really prepared for 112 degrees in the desert in July?
Thinking this was a hoot, Fain texted Visit Yuma staff about this young man who had just shown up at the visitor center and seemed game for anything. Staff jumped at the opportunity and built an incredible itinerary for James designed to show that even in the high temperatures of July, Yuma visitors can still have a great time.
Marketing specialist Karen Harris met James at Prison Hill Brewery, 278 S. Main St., for a couple cold ones and to get to know him. Over King Hill Cherry Tart beers, they came up with a plan.
They proceeded to apps at Takos & Beer, 2071 S. 4th Ave. James tried to get the “mantaraya” taco, but they were fresh out manta ray. Instead he tried the “camaron empanizado,” which showcased giant, fresh breaded and fried tiger shrimp from the nearby Sea of Cortez in Baja Mexico.
They also sampled tender pork, chilies and pineapple in the “al pastor” style, shredded beef machaca tacos, and the best-selling Pac-Man Tako which features al pastor, carne asada and grilled chicken, all stacked on a homemade flour tortilla.
For the main course, they headed across town to The Patio Restaurant and Bar, 1245 W. Desert Hills Drive, to meet up with Mario, a friend of Harris. James tried the fresh pineapple margarita with tajin on the rim. Harris’ white sangria was refreshing, and Mario had a jalapeño cucumber margarita. Harris enjoyed a wedge salad while James tried the grilled smoked chicken tacos made outside on the patio.
James turned in early at his Airbnb, since he’d gotten up at 3 a.m. to go to the Spokane airport.
The next morning was an early one, too. James and Harris met Reilly at Gateway Park beach, located at East 1st Street and South Gila Street. The three of them threw inflated inner-tubes in the water and caught a ride downstream on the Colorado River, getting out at the Centennial Park boat landing at West Wetlands Park, 282 N. 12th Ave. Tubing on the river is popular throughout the summer.
Spectacularly, the party got rained on, which made the tubing extra special, since fewer than ten days a year see any rain in Yuma!
Still a little damp, James and Harris hustled over to the Yuma Territorial Prison, 220 Prison Hill Road, for a special VIP tour, hosted by city historian Tina Clark. The prison was closed last week for renovations, but special connections got James an insider’s view of the highlights of the prison.
Lunch had to be at Mr. G’s Drive-In, 501 S. 4th Ave. The lunchtime crowd packed the place and made it hard to see all of the facets of the incredible mural on the restaurant’s wall, which tells the story of both the Gutierrez family and Yuma’s history. James established that fresh rolled tacos are nothing like frozen taquitos from the grocery store — freshly fried and salted … Mmmm!
Since it wasn’t too many hours until Bryce’s flight would depart, they poured on the hustle to drive to the neighboring Mexican border town of Los Algodones. James had thought ahead and brought his passport.
He made it back onto U.S. soil with a bevvy of presents, including a hat, a turquoise necklace for his mom, a T-shirt, and other gifts to remind him of his time in Yuma and on the U.S./Mexico border.
A quick tour of Algodones gave Harris enough time to give him a windshield tour of Bard, Calif., date groves, and also the Cloud Museum. James said he had never known how a date grew, and to see the workers tying bags around the dates to keep the birds from them was something very new to him.
“Why are you all being so nice to me?” James asked a couple times.
Harris laughed and said, “We wanted to show your friends that while this was the worst they could come up with, that there’s so much fun to have in Yuma, in spite of the heat, with the heat, because of the heat. It’s a unique place, and part of the experience is to see how people live in a desert environment and the great adventures you can have in Yuma.”
While James’ friends thought a July day in Yuma would be the opposite of a reward for the loser of their fantasy football league, James’ sense of adventure and willingness to try anything brought him new memories, new friends and a whole lot of fun!
Karen Harris is a marketing specialist with Visit Yuma. Reach Visit Yuma at 928-376-0100 and the Visitors Information Center at 928-783-0071.