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Tour shares history, lore, desert attractions
The desert around Yuma is full of legends. Tales of buried gold, ghosts and Wild West wrangling abound.
So when Steve Thornburg and his wife, Clarcie, started wintering in Yuma, the self-described history buffs “wanted to go out and explore the area and all the little out of the way places,” said Thornburg.
“It really fascinated us.”
There was just one problem: “We had a Prius,” said Thornburg, laughing at the thought of taking the city slicker hybrid out four-wheeling through the hardscrabble desert. After upgrading to a more appropriate vehicle, the duo headed out on mini excursions. But they ran into another problem.
“We didn't really know where to go,” said Clarcie Thornburg, “so we started researching.”
What they found was a veritable treasure trove of history, lore and curious desert attractions that would surely interest other winter visitors and Yumans. With that, the entrepreneur hung out a shingle and started Running Boy Tours.
Bruce Stewart and his wife have been coming to Yuma for nearly 10 years. The Canadians enjoy learning about the city and since there is no real equivalent in Canada, the desert landscape is also of particular interest to the winter visitors. When Stewart's son arranged to visit Yuma, Stewart definitely wanted to share the uniqueness of the desert.
“When I booked with Running Boy,” said Stewart, “Steve really took a lot of time to get a feel for what we wanted to do.”
On a recent Saturday, the three passengers loaded into Thornburg's brand-new jeep and embarked on a several-hour tour that took them through Bard, Picacho State Park and around the Imperial Dam area. Thornburg also meandered through one of his favorite desert haunts: Valley of the Names.
Around for some 60 years, Valley of the Names, is exactly what it says: names, hundreds of them written in stones and scattered over some 940 acres of rolling hills and valleys, the source of desperate marriage proposals, memorials, birthdays, messages and even family trees — a Facebook page for desert dwellers.
“It was the first place we saw,” said Thornburg, “and every time we take a tour near there, it's a little different.”
So for Stewart, his wife and son, seeing Valley of the Names and other uninhabited stretches of the West in the comfort of a new jeep was ideal. Tearing around in a sandrail just wasn't their cup of tea, nor was a sterile, canned bus tour.
“There wasn't anything cookie cutter about it,” Stewart said, adding that he appreciated Thornburg's knowledge of the area as well as his driving abilities.
“He didn't drive like a mad fool.”
For the more intrepid types, Running Boy does offer tours in an open-air Polaris Ranger Crew, which is a more suitable vehicle for trips through the Narrows and other remote locations.
Besides enjoying the scenery, spotting desert animals and picking up tidbits of history, Thornburg encourages clients to hop out and contribute a rock message at The Names, staple a dollar bill to the wall of the Boardmanville Trading Post and get a firsthand feel for the hard-knocks training that some 1 million soldiers endured before shipping off to Africa to serve with Gen. Patton in World War II.
“People should really spend some time in the desert,” said Stewart.
Added Thornburg, “There are so many places to see.”
Running Boy Tours can be found at www.runningboy.us or on Facebook.