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April 13, 2013

By Linda Beerman
One of the favorite things to do on any vacation is to see the native countryside, and we spent last Thursday visiting Dome Valley between Yuma and Welton, Arizona. My brother, Jeff, and our daughter, Ranell, pointed out all kinds of things of interest that nature has blessed this desert area with. As we drove through Telegraph Pass, bare mountains greeted us. The people who live there say that you can "see" their mountains, because they are not all covered with trees. Lots of hiking happens there, and if you look closely you can see the ribbons of paths going upward. Continuing on as we came through the pass, it opened up into flat desert plains with many sagebrush and Saguaro Cactus, all sizes standing tall in the sandy terrain. These plants have long roots and can live to be 150 years old.

When you think of the desert you may believe that it is all brown and dusty, but it certainly isn't so! This time of year the normal sandy region bursts forth with beautiful flowering bushes, cactus blooms, and many shades of color from the trees and growing plants. My favorite plant that seems to be abundant there is the Bougainvillea, which has large, hot pink blooms. The state tree of Arizona, Palo Verde, is so peaceful looking and plentiful to brighten up the view. Palo Verde means "stick green" because of the Spanish name, in which the adjectives are after the nouns, instead of before which is normal for us. It has its name for the green trunks, and then sports lovely yellow leaves.

One thing that we noticed, is that there are no fences between the farm lands. The Welton Mohawk Irrigation District made all this farmland possible in the 1940's and 50's. Canals were built along the fields that bring the water to the plants and crops. A "ditch rider" goes around to make sure the canals are opened up and the water is flowing properly. Both the Gila and Colorado Rivers meet in Yuma, which supplies the water for the farming region. However the Gila river bed is dry now, and it doesn't hold water unless the dams are opened up or they have a heavy rainfall.

Because of irrigation, the once mostly barren land is now lush and green, teeming with growing vegetables or other crops. Even though the annual rainfall is about two inches, the farmers tell you that they really don't want rain! It is because it messes up their irrigation plans, which they rely on to bring them bumper crops. Because of the warm temperatures and water regulated with dams and irrigation systems, these farmers can double and even triple crop the land. Not much time lapses between harvest and planting the next crop there. As we watched the canals and pipes for the irrigation maze winding through the crop land, it was evident that it has brought a better life and health for these southwest dwellers.

At this time of year we saw alfalfa hay almost ready to be cut and baled. Most of the hay is made into square bales and piled high into the air. We saw multiple stacks of it as we drove past the Five Rivers Cattle Company. This operation is Brazilian owned, and is actually the cattle side of JBS, the same corporation that is in Worthington, MN. There were 80 to 100,000 head of cattle in many lots on this huge feedlot. Manure from this cattle company is composted, and we could see it piled in rows. It is sold for fertilizer to the area farmers. Even though this association is foreign owned, they still support the community around Yuma quite well.

Most of the activity we witnessed was with the lettuce crop being harvested. Large school buses, painted white, were dotting the countryside. They carry the workers to the fields, sometimes pulling behind them porta potties. Workers could be seen dotting the fields as they bent over to gather the leafy balls of goodness. Three kinds of lettuce is grown there, including iceberg and romaine, which was packed into boxes and put on big trucks which we passed on the highways.

Cotton is another crop grown near Yuma. It had just been planted, and was just sticking up through the sandy soil. Both Upland Cotton (which is short) and Pima Cotton (which is taller) is grown here. When harvested, a machine will sort the seed from the "lint". The cotton gin doesn't waste any part of the cotton plant. "Moat" bales are made with the leftover cotton crop. It is kind of a second grade of cotton, and a little "dirty" looking. It is used as stuffing in furniture, etc.

The economic stability for Yuma and the surrounding area is based on the farming, military, and tourism (mainly the "snowbirds" that occupy a good share of the city during the winter months). Both the Marines and Army have large bases in Yuma, and the Navy also has its presence. Another sight to see is the border patrol, which has over 300 agents just between Welton and Gila Bend, Arizona.

All of it interesting to us, from the plains of Minnesota and farm country.

Our final stop on our rural tour last week was a place called Dobsen Farm. It could be compared to our local Pioneer Village, but it is run by just one family. Wendy is the widow who lives there now, as her husband, Ace, died a few years ago. Her grown son and his family lives nearby, and they help with upkeep and decisions also. Over the years Wendy and her husband have moved in several buildings from nearby towns. Thousands of items are lined up for visitors to see, all displayed in groups of like usefulness. The place is immaculate, and almost overwhelming to think you could take it all in at one outing! My brother said he sees something new every time he brings his high school classes there on a field trip. Many of the unique artifacts have been dug up by the couple over the years on their property.

Termites are plentiful in this area, but the redwood that is in some of their buildings can't be destroyed by the pale-colored insects. Among the sights were a 1956 Ford Bookmobile, filled with Wendy's personal library, and a 1946 fire truck with a twelve cylinder engine. Machinery was abundant everywhere, and included a 1926 Minneapolis tractor with a cross mounted motor. All together we saw fifty-five tractors and crawler tractors, plus ten trucks. When Ace was alive, ALL of these machines could be started and ran. Dan had fun trying to identify some of the old stationary engines, which included two, one cylinder diesel engines. One was a Canadian built and the other an English. Interesting to me was a hog oiler, with two wheels and an oil pan on the bottom. Beside it sat an oval shaped hog oiler, that is quite rare.

As we left to return to the city, we were just amazed at what we had learned. Even the driveway was of interest as signs of every description lined our way out. A fun afternoon, to be sure, and we can see why this spry little lady shows off her family's hard work to so many school children and tourists.

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