Gila Bend was named after an almost 90 degree bend in the river where the town resides. Not sure that you would make Gila Bend a destination, though it is along the historic Butterfield Trail. It’s also known for UFO sightings and even a sighting of Bigfoot!
A bit of history on the Butterfield Stage route that ran through Gila Bend:
“When dust from the Gold Rush began to settle, most of the ’49ers discovered the best that they could hope for was a working-man’s wage. They began to miss the homefolks. Getting a letter from California to the states back East was nearly impossible. Some of it went around the continent on ships, and other mail went by private companies at inflated rates. Nothing was done to improve the lack of communications between the East Coast and West Coast until 1858.
Government officials in Washington decided to establish a mail route using the wagon route blazed by the Mormon Battalion 12 years earlier. A government contract was awarded to John Butterfield who resided in New York. He would be paid $600,000 a year for six years to carry mail from St. Louis to San Francisco. Stagecoaches left St. Louis and San Francisco twice a week. The journey was completed in 25 days or less.
John Butterfield was a true entrepreneur. In 1850, he founded the American Express Company. American Express was the result of a merger between the Wells Fargo Express company and Butterfield’s own Butterfield and Wasson Express Company. The result was American Express with Butterfield in the top chair; however, Henry Wells and William Fargo both owned huge shares of the new company. The next time you see an American Express card, take a moment to reflect that it all started with a stagecoach.
Butterfield probably would have fared better if he had not won the bid on the mail contract. He spent the first two years’ proceeds just getting the Butterfield Overland Mail Company started. Although the contract’s primary purpose was mail delivery, passengers could also make the 25-day journey (2,800 miles) by purchasing a $200 ticket.
Most passengers probably only made the trip once. One writer described it as a “trip through Hell.” In order to average more than 100 miles a day, the wagons were driven 24/7 at the fastest speeds allowed by the terrain and the team pulling them. They averaged slightly more than 5 miles per hour.
There were no sleeping quarters, the food at the stage stations was horrible, and they were subject to the full range of weather conditions. Attacks by Indians and outlaws were also common. The lack of water and the condition of the water in other locations added to the misery of the journey.
The Butterfield Overland Mail Company continued its trips twice a week in each direction for the next 2-1/2 years. During that time, Butterfield was pushed out of American Express due to huge debts. Wells and Fargo took over the Butterfield Overland Stage Company contract. They were almost immediately facing a new problem due to the Civil War. In 1861, Texas joined the Confederacy, so the route had to be moved.”
If you’re looking for a reasonably priced place, to spend a night or two, Holts Shell RV Park is the place. If you have Passport America or Escapees membership you can have a nice spacious site, and full hookup for $12 a night. Level spots, clean laundry and showers/bathroom. Dog walking in the desert. The downside is it’s at a truck stop and the noise from the trucks during the night/early morning can be annoying. Try to pick a spot the furthest away from the entrance.
The Shell station and RV park has a fun air about it, with large metal dinosaurs, Rattlesnakes and Gila Monsters located here and there. If you’d like a metal sculpture to take home with you they have an assortment by the station/store as well as other souvenirs.
I will say that they have one of the best Italian restaurants I’ve eaten at, and it was also reasonable. Little Italy is it’s name, pasta al dente, lots of delicious choices. Their claim to fame was in 2011 when Prince Harry enjoyed a pizza there while training at the nearby Air Force Base. 🙂
We were only their for one night, heading to Scottsdale for our next two weeks.