The Colorado River State Historic Park tells the story of the past, present, and future of the Colorado River, and its role in the settlement and development of both Yuma and the larger Southwest.
The park is the original home of the Yuma Quartermaster Depot, an Army supply depot that operated from 1865-1883. The site served as the main supply depot for all Army forts in Arizona Territory during the Indian Wars. Supplies primarily arrived from the west coast of California, traveling first on ocean steamers to the mouth of the Colorado before being transferred onto river steamboats for their trip upriver to the Yuma Depot. From Yuma, mule-drawn wagon trains delivered supplies to Arizona’s frontier outposts.
In 1904, the abandoned depot became the headquarters for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Yuma Irrigation Project. The Yuma Project brought Colorado River water to the thirsty Yuma Valley through the construction of three major pieces of infrastructure: the Laguna Dam, the Yuma Main Canal, and the Colorado River siphon. When completed in 1912, the project was hailed as an engineering marvel that transformed the Yuma area into an agricultural powerhouse.
The Yuma Irrigation Project heralded the beginning of the river’s transformation over the past one hundred years. The Bureau of Reclamation ultimately constructed eight dams on the Lower Colorado River in Arizona. The dams brought hydropower, flood control, and a secure source of water for farming and growth in the Southwest, but this has come with unforeseen environmental damage.
The Colorado River has been named one of the most endangered rivers in the United States. It is a river facing significant challenges for the future—including overallocation, increasing demand, climate change, and environmental degradation.
In 2017, the Colorado River State Historic Park embraced its new name and theme of telling the past, present, and future of the Colorado River. Additional advertising and social media was implemented this year to increase park attendance and special events on the beautiful park grounds. In an effort to promote the park to local young families, the first annual Christmas on the Colorado event was implemented, attracting over 400 Yumans who created Christmas memories while enjoying Yuma’s rich history.
To learn more about this complex desert river and its ties to Yuma and the desert Southwest, come and check out the Colorado River State Historic Park!