Exploring the history of Phoenix, Arizona, just for fun. Advertising-free, supported by my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

Exploring my Santa Barbara


Walk with me. I'd like to show you my Santa Barbara, California. We're about an hour north of Los Angeles, and we're at East Beach. The photo at the top of this post is Cabrillo looking east towards East Beach. I collected a lot of postcards like this when I lived there.

East Beach is where I spent a lot of time when I lived there in the '80s. It's right nearby Milpas street, and I lived in the Milpas area, which is a, ahem, less-than-fashionable part of town. I lived in a tiny apartment that that had been subdivided (illegally at that time) in a house. I had my own room, bathroom, and tiny kitchen, but it really wasn't much bigger than a broom closet so I spent as little time as possible in there. It was a place to sleep, and hang my hat, that's all.

Strangely enough, my neighborhood, which was the "low rent district", was very close to a very upscale neighborhood, called Montecito. It's hard to describe Montecito, except to say that it makes Beverly Hills look poor by comparison. So let's walk there, starting at East Beach.

We're going inland on Milpas. You cross the railroad tracks and then walk under the freeway. Hang a right at the first street (I don't remember the name) and walk a few blocks to Soledad, and turn right. There's a bridge there now, but when I lived there you simply walked down into the creek and across to Cacique. Now go left up the hill. At the top of the hill turn right towards the tennis courts. When you see the golf course on your left you're almost there.

You're on Coast Village Road now, where you can do some shopping, or get something to eat. I always loved getting ice cream there. When you get to Olive Mill Road go seaward (turn right) and follow that to the Biltmore.

At the Biltmore you can sit on the railing and look out over the ocean. Fancy cars go by, but I can't remember ever going into the building. I faced the ocean, and often ate my lunch there. When you're finished with your lunch, walk down the stairs to the beach. It's more secluded than East Beach, but hey this is California, don't expect to have it all to yourself.

I can hear the sound of the ocean.

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How people made an oasis out of the Salt River Valley


The city of Phoenix is in the Salt River Valley, which is a desert. It's hot and dry, and it's been that way since the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago. Water flows through it, in various riparian washes, including the largest one, which is called the Salt River, but it doesn't get much rainfall. So it's a pretty tough place to live, unless you're a desert-adapted animal.

But people live there because they've turned it into an oasis. The process was difficult, but not complicated - just stop the water that flows through every year and divert it through canals. And that's what people have done. This creates a place where human beings can live, not just Gila Monsters. And if you're thinking that the first people who did this were the founders of Phoenix, think again. There were people there long before the 1860s. They are simply called "those who have left" - the Hohokam people.

I'm not exactly sure why, but when I use the word people, it seems as if indigenous people aren't really considered people? This makes my head hurt because it's a reflection of the bigotry that many people carry around with them, as if there are many races of people, not just one - the human race.


People made an oasis of the desert. They built dams, they dug canals. They planted crops, they made sure that there was water to drink during the months when there was no rain. This is what people do, they aren't Gila Monsters. And make no mistake, the soil of the Salt River Valley was, and is, fertile. The Salt River Valley is a floodplain, and yearly flooding brings the kind of soil that also made the Nile Valley in Egypt so fertile. Of course it takes a lot of work to hold back floods, and while we'll never really know why the Hohokam people left, my best guess is that they just got flooded out. A strange thing to happen in a desert, I know!

Image at the top of this post: Looking east-southeast from a Hohokam village towards the Salt River and where Tempe, Arizona is now. An oasis in the desert.

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