Word has it you haven’t been to hell until you’ve been to Yuma. This is simply not true.

You haven’t been to hell unless you’ve been to Yuma and your car’s air conditioner breaks down.

Actually, we were about 16 miles west of Yuma on our sizzling late-August road trip from Tucson to San Diego when the car’s air conditioner went kaput.

Our options were continuing onward through the upcoming boulders and dust in the 119-degree heat, stopping immediately and playing with the car’s fuse box in the hopes of getting the air conditioner to work or turning around and heading back to Yuma to find a mechanic. When playing with the fuses didn’t work, and continuing onward in the sweltering car would have killed my two dogs in the backseat, we opted to turn back.

By the time we reached Yuma city limits, our faces were bright red and slippery, our hair and clothes were drenched in sweat, and the two big dogs in the back were hyperventilating. One had a white and black tongue.

Hot car, hot air, hot tempers and dying dogs – yes, this must be hell. Our first stop was the first car repair garage we spotted. The three mechanic-looking men hanging around beneath an attached car port did have a giant fan the dogs enjoyed, but they didn’t have the means to help us. They instead sent us down the road to a place they said specialized in air conditioning.

We trudged into a sweltering front office where a scared-looking man apologized the place’s air conditioning was broken and no, he couldn’t help us either. The mechanic was out for the day and they only fixed radiators, anyway.

At this point a little demon man slipped into the hell scenario, advising a quick fix on the car that involved hooking up wires to bypass the switches. The man at the auto supply my beau then visited said sure, the quick fix would work – until it blew up the engine.

All the while my dogs and I crouched in sliver of shade atop hot concrete until they thought it looked cooler beneath a monster truck and proceeded to half-drag me beneath it.

Here’s where our Yuma experience changed from hell on earth to a pretty cool little city.
Although the devil’s-breath breeze and searing sun still made the place seem like Hades, we soon learned Yuma is not as hell-like as it first may seem.

Many label Yuma as hell based solely on a quick pass through town. If you actually stop to hang around – as we were forced to for hours until nightfall – the town has some sweet little highlights.

Like the down-to-earth people. The two car shops we visited after I was dragged beneath a monster truck had employees who were honest, up-front and let my dogs sprawl on the cool tile and lap up great bowls of water. One place even refilled the water bowl.

They offered no false promises and no bull when they assessed the car’s damage – for free – then told us it would take at least one or two days to get the necessary part. Our choices then became hanging out in a Yuma motel until the part came around or braving onward to San Diego after dark when the temperatures had to dip at least a little.

“Why not go to Gateway Park,” one mechanic man said. I joked it would only be feasible if it came with a body of water. He non-jokingly said it did.

All hail the Colorado River, another refreshing Yuma element that proves it is not the home of Satan after all. Satan doesn’t do green grass and trees. Nor would he approve of the invigorating dip in the river that brought us all back to life – dogs included.

The park came with its own set of laid-back people who actually picked up their litter and smiled at the dogs. Of course, the laid-back nature could have come from the sweltering heat, but their vibes were positive, rejuvenating and made us feel better. Better than we could ever feel in hell.