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

When 7th Avenue was the Black Canyon Road, Phoenix, Arizona


If you live in Phoenix, you know where the Black Canyon Road is. It's the I-17 freeway, which replaced the Black Canyon Highway, which is at about 27th Avenue. But not in old-time Phoenix!

In the map above, you're looking at what would be 7th Avenue on the left and 7th Street on the right nowadays. And north of the city limits, which in 1897, was at Van Buren, 7th Avenue was the Black Canyon Road and 7th Street was the Cave Creek Road. Yeah, that one has moved too, about the same distance, to about 28th Street.

Of course Phoenix has grown since then. And after many years it gets kind of confusing. Many of the street names in Phoenix have changed as the city grew. And if you think about it, it makes sense. Once you're out of town, the logical thing to name a road is for its destination. And that's how 7th Avenue became the Black Canyon Road, because it was the road to Black Canyon, as 7th Street was the road to Cave Creek.

If you look more carefully at the map at the top of this post, and if you're familiar with Phoenix Streets, you'll see Orangewood, which is the half-mile street between Glendale and Northern. Back in 1897, when the Orangewood Addition (we call them subdivisions nowadays) was platted, it was waaaay out in the country!

So if you've doing some Phoenix History Detective work, look out, the names have changed!

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Seeing the wonder of Arizona through an outsider's eyes


If you live somewhere for a long time, or if you've always lived there, it's natural to become blind to it. Of course the whole world is a wonderful, magical place, but many people stay in exactly the same bored "seen-it-all" attitude that they had when they were 18. I know that I knew everything, and had seen everything, when I was 18, and it was vitally important for me to yawn at everything, because I was all grown up, and so cool.

Then I turned 19 and it all went away in a flash. I moved from Minnesota to Arizona and allowed myself to just absolutely stand there in amazement when I got to Phoenix. My jaw dropped when I saw my first cactus actually growing out of the ground. When I saw my first palm tree in real life, I walked up to it and touched it. I was a stranger in a strange land, and I loved it.

As I recall there were minor nuisances to deal with, like going to school, and working. But between that I would watch sunsets. I probably missed very few sunsets when I lived in Tempe, and after a while I started to believe that the sun wouldn't go down if I wasn't there to watch it. I was also reading John Steinbeck at the time, and he was teaching me to see the wonder and beauty among squalor.

When I moved to California, I got even crazier. I drove along the Pacific Coast Highway more times than I could count, and I especially liked driving south when I could be seaward, and I could drive with pelicans next to me. People would ask me how quickly I got from point A to point B, and I really had no idea. After a while I learned to give people the answers they wanted. But if someone really wanted to know why it took me so long to get from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, I would tell them. I'm an outsider, a tourist.

Being a tourist, or an outsider, isn't something most people like to admit. These people are always slowing down traffic, stopping to ask directions, taking photographs of nothing. Locals know their way, have been on a road so many times they don't even pay attention to it anymore, and are so way cool that they can't even begin to stand the tourists.

For me, it's fun to see my Arizona through an outsider's eyes. A friend of mine on Facebook is visiting from Scotland as I write this, and it's great to see what catches his eye, what he talks about, the pictures he takes. How startling and exotic an ordinary truck is, and the fact that there's so many of them, and that there are tropical plants. When I start to feel as if I've been somewhere too long, I find this wonderfully refreshing.

If you're still 18, and already know everything, and everything bores you, I'll try to stay out of your way. I understand. But I'm so sorry for you, because you're missing so much wonder. If you want to get stupid again, I suggest that you see things through an outsider's eyes, be a tourist in your own home town.

Image at the top of this post: Camelback Mountain in Phoenix in 1955. This is what I see.