From Yuma to the Center of the World

The Center of the World in Felicity, California
Saturday, September 16, 2017 - 9:14am

I’m a morning person. My grandma loves to tell people that even when I was a baby I’d wake up smiling. A previous roommate had a no-talking rule until she’d showered, and Jim frequently tells me to slow down until he’s had a chance to wake up. So not only am I a morning person, I’m an obnoxious morning person.

But even I have my limits.

It was Day Thirteen, the thirteenth day in a row of awakening before 5 a.m., and I was done. “It’s a good thing we’re in Oceanside tonight,” I wrote. “I think I’ve hit the wall. It’s exhaustion from information overload.”

It was exhaustion, period. I was tired. I was grumpy. I didn’t want to see anyone or talk to anyone. Jim was pretty much the only other human being I could handle at that moment, and even he was iffy. (Not really, but I don’t want you thinking our state of marital bliss was completely unrealistic.)

It wasn’t a desire to go home. That’s just crazy talk, although I was a little surprised that I hadn’t felt one iota of homesickness. In fact, I was a bit sad that we were nearing the halfway point. That may seem like a direct contradiction of my earlier complaint of exhaustion, but apparently I’m not only an obnoxious morning person, but also a capricious one.

Instead of staying curled up in bed like I wanted to, I gave myself a quick pep talk. That evening we would be in Oceanside and we would sleep in the same place for a whole week! No unpacking and packing and unpacking and packing over and over again. We’d get to spend time with family and, besides that little thing called the Travel and Adventure Show, we could relax.

HA! Oh, the crazy things I come up with.

I also knew that on the return trip our days wouldn’t be so tightly packed and our time would be more our own. Of course, that was because I hadn’t planned a darn thing, but we’ll get to that anxiety later.

The point is, we got up, packed up, checked out, and left for our final destination in Yuma and the long, winding, multi-stop trek across California.

It was a beautiful morning to explore the Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park. The U.S. Army established the depot in 1864 to supply outposts all over the Southwest. If you were stationed in what is now Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Nevada, or Utah, your supplies came from this depot. At the time the Colorado River flowed right into the Gulf of California and food, ammunition, clothing, et al, would be sent up the river, stored at the depot, and then shipped off on mules, wagons, and river boats. Six months’ worth of supplies were kept on hand until 1880 when the arrival of trains removed the need for the depot. At this park you can see the oldest buildings in the region from San Diego to Tucson, and the oldest Anglo-built house in Arizona.

The park serves the dual purpose of sharing the Quartermaster Depot’s history and the importance of the Colorado River, considered the lifeblood of the Southwest. What was once an uncontrolled resource is now the most dammed river in the world, so much so that it doesn’t even reach the Gulf any more.

One of the newer exhibits focused on the Yuma Siphon, a 1912 tunnel that was built under the river and was the area’s first means of irrigation. That tunnel was the beginning of Yuma’s status as an agricultural capital instead of barren desert.

We briefly explored the grounds and the displays. At one point I stepped off the sidewalk to get a picture and stepped onto something sharp, thorny, and prickly. I could hear Michelle in Cottonwood saying “Everything sticks you here!” so we took that as our signal to leave.

Yuma Quartermaster Depot - Fragile - must be Italian
Yuma Quartermaster Depot - old train car
Yuma Quartermaster Depot - old coach close-up
Yuma Quartermaster Depot - Oldest Anglo-built house in Arizona

We crossed the Colorado River into California and gained an hour because we were in a new time zone, which was a good thing since we had two extra stops on our itinerary.

Make that three - sort of. Our first stop was at the Winterhaven Agricultural Inspection Station. If you’ve driven into California anytime in the past century you’ve probably had to stop at one of these. It’s an effort to prevent invasive plants and bugs from entering the state, and they inspect every vehicle. We’d been through this before, so we figured we should let them know about the ten pound box of dates we had in the car.

“Dates?” asked the inspector. “Dates are fiiiiine,” he laughed, and motioned us ahead.

Alrighty then.

We had barely returned to I-8 when we had to exit again, at Felicity, California, population two. We were heading to the Museum of History in Granite and the Center of the World.

At dinner the night before, when Ann and Charles told us about this peculiar attraction just across the border, we snickered. It sounded like the imaginings of a reclusive eccentric, but they admonished us gently, letting us know that Jacques-André Istel was quite serious about the museum, his legacy, and especially his wife.

Jacques-André made his name and fortune as the Father of American Parachuting and the co-founder of Parachutes, Inc. Despite immigrating to the United States with his family to escape the Germans in 1940, with the barest grasp of English, he graduated salutatorian of his class in 1945 and from Princeton in 1949. He then joined the U.S. Marines and served in Korea. As if success in those arenas wasn’t enough, he decided to add Best Husband Ever to his list of accomplishments and built his wife a town.

In 1985 Jacques-André wrote a children’s book titled “Coe: The Good Dragon at the Center of the World.” The story goes that Coe discovered the exact center of the world and, lo and behold, it was located right in Imperial County, California, on land that the wily Frenchman had purchased decades before. It didn’t take too long for him to convince the Imperial County Board of Supervisors that he was right, and an official declaration was made, followed by similar recognition from Institut Géographique National, the French Mapping Agency. Who were they to argue with a dragon and a man who made his fortune convincing people to jump out of planes?

The next year Jacques-André founded the town of Felicity, named for his wife, Felicia. The Istels had the center of the world; now what? “Build a pyramid!” Felicia suggested. They were in the desert, after all. So Jacques-André built his wife a pyramid. In the exact center of the 21-foot granite pyramid is The Spot, a dot in the middle of a bronze disc which marks the official Center of the World. If you want to make a wish, you put your toe on The Spot, face a brilliant white church on a hill through the open doors, and close your eyes. The whole ceremony is documented, noting the date and time, and you receive a certificate to commemorate the occasion.

We made a wish, of course, although our momentous occasion was interrupted when some shady tourists who didn’t want to pay the $2 for their own ceremony tried to enter. Neanderthals.

The Center of the World in Felicity, California
The Spot at The Center of the World in Felicity, California

While the Center of the World and the pyramid that encompassed it were undoubtedly kitschy, the Museum of History in Granite impressed us as a noble pursuit. The Museum is a series of monuments with moments from the past etched in granite, calculated to last 4,000 years. Topics include the History of Arizona, the History of the French Foreign Legion, and the epically ambitious History of Humanity. The Hall of Fame of Parachuting is included, of course, as is the USMC Korean War Memorial, which honors the 4,617 Marines and 107 Navy Corpsmen who gave their lives during the Korean War. To ensure future generations can read the monuments, there’s a Felicity Stone, a modern version of the Rosetta Stone that translates a message into nine ancient languages.

We browsed the panels that were available and then climbed the stairs to the church. Modeled after a church in Brittany, it’s on a hill because Jacques-André believes that if you build a house for God (any God, as he’s Jewish), it should be the highest thing around.

Museum of History in Granite in Felicity, California
Museum of History in Granite in Felicity, California
Felicity Stone at Museum of History in Granite in Felicity, California
Church on the Hill at the Museum of History in Granite

Our last stop before picking up our certificates, from Felicia herself, no less, was at the Maze of Honor. You can have your very own panel engraved and ensure your personal legacy is preserved for millennia.

It would be easy to dismiss this entire concept with a few snickers, but after experiencing the Museum of History in Granite and the Center of the World for ourselves, we could see that this was truly a labor of love, not just for his wife and not just for each other, but for the world.

And just like that, I wasn’t grumpy anymore.

From Yuma to the Center of the World: Exploring the Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park and journeying to the Center of the World and the Museum of History in Granite in Felicity, California
Theresa Goodrich's picture
Theresa Carter - The Local Tourist Founder and Publisher, a.k.a. the boss
About Theresa

Hello Fellow Traveler! I'm the Emmy-winning founder and publisher of The Local Tourist. I've got insatiable curiosity, wanderlust, and an incurable need to use my words. In fact, I

Center of the World Drive, Felicity, CA 92283
760.572.0100
How much: $3; $2 additional for tour and certificate
Located in Felicity, CA, the Museum of History in Granite consists of 18 granite monuments, dedicated to various historical topics.
201 N 4th Ave, Yuma, AZ 85364
928.783.0071
How much: Adult admission $4 (age 14 and older), $2 active duty and retired military, $2 for kids ages 7-13, kids age 6 and younger free
For nearly 20 years beginning in 1864, all the military posts in the Southwest traced their lifelines to the Yuma Quartermaster Depot.

Comments

I wish I was a morning person! This is definitely one of the quirkiest museum sites I've ever heard of. Thanks for sharing!

It's worth a visit! I hope he continues to add to those panels.

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