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2022 Trip Report - Yucca

Yucca and Other Rondy 2022 Destinations

By Bob Jaussaud

Thanksgiving 2022 was a special time for us. We all have so much to be thankful for, not the least of which are the wonderful times we had at our 2022 Desert Explorer Rendezvous. We are still relishing the memories, thus this late write-up for our Rondy Saturday and Sunday trips.

Kudos to all who joined us for our Saturday Rondy trip. We had a large group and there were some challenging roads but all went well.Trippers gathered together at Topock 66, a quirky establishment that has gained some deserved notoriety (especially the mens’ facilities and the deck stools). After starting out, our first stop (just a short ways away) was for a view of the Colorado River bridges at Topock.These days there are 3 bridges; the Interstate 40 Bridge, the Railroad Bridge and the Old Arch Bridge. The original bridge at Topock was the Red Rock Railroad Bridge. Sadly it no longer exists, but we were able to see where it had once crossed the river. The Red Rock Bridge was built in 1890 to replace the first railroad bridge located just south of Needles. At that time there was not an automobile bridge.Wagons and cars were ferried across the river on the Needles Ferry. With the advent of Old National Trails Highway around 1913 an autobridge was needed and wooden planks were added to the Red Rock Bridge so cars could cross the bridge between trains. It wasn’t until1916 that the “Trails Arch Bridge” was completed and cars had their own crossing. Unfortunately the Arch Bridge only had one lane and a weight limit of just 11 tons, which trucks soon exceeded. Fortunately the railroad realigned their tracks and were compelled to replace the Red Rock Bridge in 1945. The railroad rails were removed from the Red Rock Bridge and it was re-purposed for Route 66 traffic in 1947.The distinctive Arch Bridge was thankfully retained for pipeline use and has now been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A new four lane auto bridge was built for Interstate 40 in 1966 and the Red Rock Bridge was abandoned. Regretfully it was dismantled in 1976. This is a lot of condensed information to share but Sue and I have always found the bridges across the Colorado River at Topock to be especially beautiful and interesting.

The large Circle Maze south of Franconia was our next destination for Rondy Saturday. This maze was most likely created for World War II bombing practice. The road into the Circle Maze was very challenging, yet everyone made it look easy. The Circle Maze is about half a mile in diameter and is made of concentric circles of rock about 10 feet apart.

From the Maze, we continued on an original section of Old National Trails. The road had deteriorated in the 70 plus years since it had been abandoned and it was no piece of cake to navigate but, again, everyone did very well. Old National Trails was the main road through Yucca from the early 1900’s until Route 66 came through in the early 1950’s.

Our lunch at Rocket Burger near the Yucca Sphere was nice treat. The “Dinesphere” was built around 1970 by a company called “Lake Havasu Estates.” The Sphere was intended as a restaurant and gathering spot for lot purchasers. The development was also promoted with enticing photos showing would-be owners water skiing and enjoying Lake Havasu lakeside living. No matter that “Lake Havasu Estates” were 40 miles distant from any lake! Not surprisingly, it all went bust in 1972. Rocket Burger is a relatively new establishment, but it enabled us to get a close look of the original Sphere.

The town of Yucca itself started as a railroad siding about 1881. Local ranchers shipped their cattle from Yucca and area miners shipped tungsten ore. A post office was established at Yucca in 1905. The section of Old National Trails we had driven was established through Yucca in 1913. During World War II there was a Gunnery School based in Yucca. We suspect that the Circle Maze we saw was a result of gunnery School B-17s flying over the target and dropping sacks of flour to check for accuracy. The large abandoned WWII airfield in Yucca was eventually purchased by the Ford Motor Company and turned into the Ford Arizona Proving Grounds. Chrysler purchased the proving grounds from Ford in 2007.

After Interstate 40 bypassed Yucca in the 1970’s the town began a slow decline. Even the infamous Honolulu Club closed. However, there is hope Yucca may soon revive. There are plans to build a custom storage and RV park near Yucca that will include a professional-quality motocross facility. The promoters have completed a similar very successful development just north of Lake Havasu.

Lunch at Rocket Burger took longer than anticipated so when our Rondy group finally departed Yucca there was just enough time left in the afternoon to try and locate the remains of Franconia, an old railroad siding that is mostly remembered as the site of two horrific railroad accidents. In 1901 a train prematurely pulled out of the Franconia siding and ran head-on into another speeding train. At that time it was the worst accident in Santa Fe Railroad history. Then in 1945 a railroad signal failed at Franconia and there was another head-on collision between an express and a passenger train. We had heard there were monuments to the railroad accidents, but all we were able to locate at Franconia, when we finally found it, was a large concrete foundation (probably the section house), 4 graves and a lot of debris. From Franconia everyone headed back to Needles to prepare for an excellent dinner and a wonderful Olive Oatman presentation by Debbie at the Elks Club.

On Sunday, a few of us continued our railroad explorations. We found a pleasant little two-track that led us down from the canyon wall and into beautiful Sacramento Wash, just northeast of Topock. There we located the berm (complete with a few ties) of the 1883 Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, predecessor of the Santa Fe. The first railroad bridge across the Colorado River was made with wooden pilings imbedded in the river sand. It was located far upriver from the current bridge and washed out several times until it was replaced in 1890 with the Red Rock Bridge at Topock. That’s when the railroad alignment we were on had been abandoned. How amazing to hike along a railroad berm that had been so significant in its time but had lain dormant for over 132 years. It was a wonderful day that ended with a final group Rondy meal while watching the desert sun set over the Colorado River. ~ Joeso