Exploring the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California.

Visiting the Sahuaro Ranch in August, Glendale, Arizona


It's the middle of August, with temperatures well above 100, and high humidity, so let's go visit the Sahuaro Ranch (yes, it's misspelled that way). At least it won't be crowded!

The Sahuaro Ranch is a magical place, which goes back to the 1880s, not far from where I live, in Glendale, Arizona. It's one of those places that you drive past a million times, and never even know it was there, even though it's huge, occupying the space between 59th and 63rd Avenues and just south of the Glendale Main Library, which is on Brown, south of Peoria Avenue, down to Glendale Community College, which is on Olive. I've been there more times than I can count, and I love it there. You have to get out of your car.

Palm trees at the Sahuaro Ranch, Glendale, Arizona.
Although you really can't tell by the pics, it was really miserable out there today, with the high humidity of the monsoon season, and the temperatures over 100 degrees. I traveled from shade spot to shade spot, and the trees, even the palms, made a big difference. Contrary to popular belief, the weather was just as hot and miserable in the 1880s as it is now - that hasn't changed. What has changed, of course is that we now have air conditioning, and no one in their right mind would go out in the midday sun.

I was there for about an hour, and saw a total of five people. One person, who worked there, was operating the irrigation, one person walked by, looking very miserable, and asked if I had a cigarette, and I saw an elderly woman walk past me (as I was sitting in the shade taking the above photo), and a couple more people who seemed to be walking across the park towards the library. Come to think of it, I saw some kids on the patio of the Foreman's House.

Terratrike at Sahuaro Ranch Park, Glendale, Arizona.

Anyway, I rode over there on my "lawn chair on wheels", my recumbent trike, which is wonderful for this kind of thing. It's definitely a lot less effort than walking, and unlike a two-wheeler, it can go as slowly as I want (I brake for peacocks!) and don't need to keep moving forward in order not to tip over (a disadvantage of a two-wheeler).

I packed a lunch, and found a nice shady spot. Even then I really can't recommend doing this kind of thing in August! Better to wait for the nicer weather, which is from October to April. Open to the public, no admission.

I like the ranch, even when it's hot and humid.

The barnyard area of the Sahuaro Ranch, Glendale, Arizona.


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How the Phoenix desert was transformed by cash crops


I was watching a documentary yesterday about how forests in Borneo are being cleared away to make way for "cash crops", with the disastrous effects on wildlife, the environment, and ultimately people, who suffer from flooding caused by the land eroding away, because of the lack of forests. And I saw a rescue of an orangutan and her baby, who had been trapped in an area that was too small for them, surrounded by row after row of "cash crop" plants, acre after acre. And since I'm interesting Phoenix history, I started thinking about the transition of the desert here in the Salt River Valley into "cash crops".

Most of the older people that I know remember the endless rows of citrus trees, or cotton that stretched on for miles and miles in the Phoenix area. And of course none of these people are old enough to remember what the area was like before it was converted to cash crops. It's as if Phoenix had always been that way. And it strikes me as how people may remember Borneo generations in the future, just row after row of cash crops, with no memory of the forest. Once something fades out of memory, it's as if it never existed, and the forests and orangutans will be forgotten.

If you're saying, well, the Phoenix are was just a desert anyway, I understand. And personally I like the transformation that people made here in the valley, starting in 1868, with the first canal dug by the Swilling Company. Water from irrigation brought in not only cash crops, but trees for shade, and I like trees. Come to think of it, I like oranges, too. I'm just saying that the Phoenix area wasn't always like that, it was once virgin desert.

The Saguaro National Park, near Tucson, Arizona. In my mind's eye I can see this as the foothills of Camelback Mountain, before everything was cleared away, and forgotten.

You don't need a time machine to see what Phoenix was like before just about every trace of what the area had looked like was cleared away. I recommend visiting the Saguaro National Park, which is near Tucson. I'd never seen anything like that until just a couple of years ago, and to me it was breathtaking. I had never seen so many saguaros, and of course everything else that the Phoenix area had before the desert was erased for agriculture. The Tucson area is a little bit lusher than the Salt River Valley, but that protected area is as close as I've seen to what the desert looked like in the Phoenix area before 1868. No one really knows, but it sure wasn't row after row of "cash crops".

Now don't get me wrong, I like living in Phoenix, with water, food, and air conditioning. If where I am right now looked exactly like it did before the pioneers of Phoenix started clearing away the desert, I'd be out in the blazing sun, with maybe a saguaro for shade. But in my imagination I like to picture it. And while it's gone from modern memory, you can still see it, in photos, and in real life, before the age of cash crops.

Image at the top of this post: the foothills of Camelback Mountain in the 1950s. Not a trace of the desert remained, just row after row of cash crops.

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Preparing for a day of history adventuring IRL (In Real Life) - Bush's Crossing at the Parker Cut-Off in 1918


Although most of the history adventuring I do just in my imagination, and in cyberspace, sometimes I actually get a chance to get out there on the Arizona highways IRL (In Real Life). This Friday I will be exploring the road between Phoenix and Parker, Arizona, at what was the best way to cross the Colorado River in an automobile in 1918, at Bush's Crossing at the Parker Cut-Off.

Like all of my IRL history adventures, this started with something that I discovered which fascinated me, not the usual "historical" stuff. It's about everything that I'm interested in when it comes to history, what ordinary people did. In this instance, how did they drive from Phoenix to Los Angeles, considering that there's a fairly large river that needed to be crossed? Yes, I know that the railroads had done it for decades before that, but you can't drive a motorcar over a railroad bridge! At least you shouldn't. And by 1918, there were a LOT of cars that wanted to cross that river between Phoenix and LA.

1918 ad for Bush's Crossing at Parker, Arizona

Nowadays, of course, we don't give a thought to crossing the Colorado River. I've driven back and forth between LA and Phoenix more times than I can count, and I know that the crossing is at Blythe. That bridge has been there since 1928, but in 1918 the best place to cross was up near Parker, at Bush's Crossing. I'd like to find out more about Bush's Crossing, but right now all I have is an ad and a map that I found in an old newspaper at the Library of Congress. I'm sure I'll find out more, and I'll let you know, of course!

I make a better sight-seer than driver nowadays, so I'm going with a friend who just loves to drive. I'll be mapping out the way, and making suggestions for stops along the wayside, including GPS coordinates, and I'll provide the sandwiches. I always pack a delicious and nutritious lunch when I'm history adventuring IRL, because I don't want to worry about getting hungry. Yes, I know that there will be places to buy food, we're not wandering out into the middle of the desert, but I'd just rather not have to worry about it.

We'll be taking the old route from Phoenix to California, up around Wickenburg. But we won't be going to Blythe, we'll be going to Parker, which is called the Parker Cut-Off in the ad. That means heading northwest after we leave Salome (I've never been there, and I want to confirm how locals pronounce it), then through Vicksburg, Bouse, and on up to Parker. Of course there's a bridge there, and there has been since 1937, but there wasn't one in 1918, just a ferry that took automobiles across. So it's not as if we're going to see Bush's Ferry, we'll just be where it was. There may be an historical marker there, or it may have been forgotten about.

I'm looking forward to history adventuring IRL!

Image at the top of this post: the map to and from Bush's Crossing in 1916. I turned it sideways so it would make more sense to me. I like north to be up!

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Making history adventuring my life's work


After my accident fifteen years ago which left me disabled, I floundered on what I should do. I made attempts to go back to work, which were disastrous, and while they weren't fatal to me, looking back now I'm wondering why they weren't? And since I've been a graphic design teacher, I turned to my computer and tried a lot of things, mostly as a way to try to keep my mind sharp while my body healed, as best it could. And that's when I discovered history adventuring, about seven years ago.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that there are a lot of posts, over 900 at last count. And that's because while I enjoy collecting old photos of Phoenix, I wanted to do more than just that - I wanted to step into them. Some of my earliest posts were simply walking around old-time Phoenix, which at the time I was often unable to do physically, which was frustrating to say the least. And it was a wonderful fantasy, just walking and looking at stuff, diving into the old photos. I still enjoy it a lot, and I continue to write in the blog, and have been history adventuring IRL (In Real Life) with friends who drive, and are willing to accommodate me. I can walk, but not well enough to hike, and it's looking as if I will never be able to that again in this life. In my imagination I can, and I can do it anywhere, and everywhere, I like. And to my delight I found that there were people who wanted to walk along with me.

Anyway, while I'm old enough now for a "senior discount", I'm not ready to sit around waiting for the end, which looks like is very far in my future. So I've decided that history adventuring will be my life's work. I set up a Patreon account, which allows people to subscribe, at a basic level for a dollar a month, and at what I call the PhD (Phoenix History Detective) level for five dollars a month, with a discount for seniors, veterans, and students. And my goal is to just keep doing what I'm doing. I have no interest in becoming rich and famous, but I do want to continue history adventuring. I really like the idea of Patreon, which I began thinking of as a donation site, but I'm now thinking of as a subscription - a really inexpensive subscription! And since it's my life's work now, I'm working hard on it, making sure that there's something every day, either a history adventuring blog post, or a cool photo, some of which I call "super high definition", which I create a link to, and are so huge that you really do feel as if you were walking down the street in old Phoenix.

So I will make history adventuring my life's work. And with a long life, and your help, it'll be wonderful. Thank you for walking with me.

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Living with trees in old-time Phoenix


The more I learn about old-time Phoenix, the more I realize that the trees have been gone much longer than I had thought. Originally I kinda thought the 1980s, or the 1970s, but it looks like the end of Phoenix as a city of trees started much longer ago than that.

Even the "old-timers" (wise and venerable ones if you prefer) that I know don't remember the way Phoenix once had trees. The best that they can do is remember the trees along the canals, and along the roads, and the orange groves. And some of them lived with trees, and have fond memories of climbing on them, going back to the 1950s, and even a few decades before that. But none of them are old enough to remember Phoenix before air conditioning, or swamp cooling. And that was the time that Phoenix was a forest of trees, not just here and there, but everywhere.

In my imagination I try to picture what Phoenix was like when every house had several trees. Yeah, I like air conditioning, but before that the shade of trees is what people had, from the 1870s on. The trees weren't just along canals, roads, and farms, people lived with them. They were everywhere.

Time-travel with me. Right after the Civil War ended, the Swilling Company dug a small canal and established a settlement, sometimes called Pumpkinville, but most often the Phoenix Settlement. It was along a canal that started on the north bank of the Salt River, across from where Tempe is now, and flowed northwest towards where Van Buren and 32nd Street is now. And they knew that all the land needed was water, that it was very fertile from thousands of years of flooding, and receding, water, just like the Fertile Crescent of the Nile. So they planted things, including trees. Well, can you blame them? It was hot, and they liked the shade as much as we do now!

As the city grew, and new canals were created, water flowed freely all over the valley. And trees were a cheap way to cool down the places where people, and animals, lived. They were simply planted small, and grew big with water. It must have been amazing to see the sun-scorched land became an oasis of trees in just a few years. You could walk in neighborhoods and never be away from shade. All of the houses had trees (well, they didn't have air conditioning!). It just made sense.

But with the invention of air cooling, in the 1920s, and the improvements of air conditioning, after the 1940s, the trees really went away. It took a while, and the old timers (wise and venerable ones) saw the end of them. By the time I got to Phoenix, in 1977, they were mostly gone, and nowadays many people wonder if you can actually grow trees in the Phoenix area.

I like trees, and I'd love to see them return to the city I love. And not just in public places, just planted by the government, but everywhere, cared for by the people who live with them.

Image at the top of this post: The Gardiner's Hotel in 1872, northwest corner of Washington and 3rd Street, Phoenix, Arizona. Behind the trees.

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