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The history of Yuma’s movie magic

YUMA, Ariz. — Driving along Interstate 8 just west of Yuma, it may seem like you're in the Sahara Desert, but you're actually much closer to home than it appears outside your window. is.

Although Imperial Sand Dunes is technically in California, it's just a short drive from Yuma and has been a staple of southwestern Arizona life for years.

“I grew up here and have lived here all my life,” said Anthony Fernandez, a Yuma native. “I like the dunes. They're beautiful.”

Even Hollywood has taken note of the wonders of the Dunes. They've filmed some of our favorite movies here, dating back over a century.

Perhaps the best known is 1983's Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Remember the epic battle scene on Jabba's barge? Historians say the movie was shot in what the Yumans called “the dunes.”

That's not all. Other films such as Casablanca and Morocco, as well as recent films such as Jarhead and Jumanji: The Next Level, have all reportedly shot Dune scenes as well.

“A lot of times, we're a small community, so they don't believe in it,” Joe Teposto said. Bisto Yuma.

Teposte, who has lived in Yuma most of her life, told ABC15 that the area's “movie magic” also brings in a lot of tourists, especially on big Star Wars anniversaries.

“A lot of people actually want to come and see the scene and see where the movie was shot.”

In addition to tourists, the filmmakers themselves also come.

“They stay here, they eat here, they drive out there to shoot…the crew comes, the actors come, it all generates income,” Teposte said. I did.

But Dune isn't the only place experiencing that movie magic. Rumor has it that Marilyn Monroe stayed at the Hotel San Carlos in downtown Yuma on her honeymoon with Joe DiMaggio.

There are even rumors that John Wayne entered the hotel lobby on horseback.

Historians say other films have also shot scenes in and around Yuma, including “Casablanca,'' “Psycho,'' and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.'' Not bad for a place that some people mistakenly label as just a “stopover” on the way to another larger city.

“That's a misconception. They think this is just a pit stop, transit point or bathroom break between San Diego and Phoenix, and vice versa.”

“This is just one of the things that makes our community a diamond in the rough,” Teposte said.

Fernandez is well aware of Yuma's movie magic.

“My father was in that movie,” he said.

His father, a World War II veteran and POW, worked on war films shot in the dunes in the 1940s.

“He took part in the explosion, brought a shovel and threw dirt into the air,” Fernandez said.

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