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

A tree that grows naturally in Phoenix, Arizona, and always has - mesquite


Since I like trees, and live in Phoenix, Arizona, people often ask me what grows naturally there, and I point to a mesquite. You see them everywhere in Phoenix, and if you just walk past them, I understand. I've even heard of them referred to as "parking lot trees". I took that pic up there yesterday while I was sitting outside drinking coffee, and while it's a beautiful specimen of a mesquite I was aware that it seemed as if I were taking a photo of "nothing".

Mesquite trees were in the Sonoran Desert long before anyone lived there. Long before the Hohokam, long before the pioneers of Phoenix. For about 10,000 years, which is when the last ice age ended, and the area became the desert that we know today.

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But really, they're not trees, just big bushes. When you see them around the modern streets of Phoenix you're just seeing carefully trimmed gigantic bushes. Left to grow naturally, they sprawl and stay low to the ground. To make them look more treelike, the lower branches needed to be trimmed off.

Mesquite is a wonderful tree for shade in Phoenix, and they use precious little water. They have incredibly long taproots, and once they're established they don't need regular water, although giving them some makes them look a little better.

Mesquites are evergreen. That is, they don't lose their leaves in the fall, so they look pretty much the same in the summer as in the winter. But like all trees, they shed. Deciduous trees shed all of their leaves all at one in time in the fall, and mesquites shed a little all year long. So they're a poor choice around swimming pools, or anywhere that needs to be kept constantly swept.

The Phoenix townsite - Van Buren to Harrison, and 7th Avenue to 7th Street.

Mesquites are as tough as nails, and are never bothered by the most extremes of heat and cold that Phoenix has. Before downtown Phoenix was built, back before 1870, much of that area was a dense forest of mesquite. In fact, the mesquite had to be removed in order for streets and buildings to be started. And that means that downtown Phoenix was a riparian area, which just means an area that naturally got some flood water every once in a while. Mesquite is tough, but it needs water to get going and to stay healthy. That's why you see them growing naturally in washes, but not on the side of hills, like a cactus can do.

If you live in the desert, and are pondering planting a tree, I recommend mesquite. If you live in Phoenix and are wondering what they look like, just look everywhere.

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The January classic car auctions of Scottsdale, Arizona


Every January the car shows transform Scottsdale, Arizona into a wonderland of classic cars. If you like classic cars, like I do, it can be great fun. If you have more money than I do, you can get a bargain - that's the whole point of auctions.

By far the most famous and popular classic car auction is the Barrett-Jackson, which began in 1971, and is held at WestWorld, on the polo grounds, just south of Bell Road, east of the 101. If you've never been to one of these car shows, this is the place to start. And if you're like me, you won't go to the auctions, you'll just go look at the cars. I'll tell you how it works.

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Several days before the auction the cars are set out for inspection. You can wander around and look at them at your leisure. No, you can't drive them around, or kick the tires, but you can do a careful inspection. Usually the sellers are there all week so you can talk to them, and there are other things to see, you know, booths that sell stuff, posters, etc. It takes a bit of walking, but it's great fun. And yes, you'll see the "rich and famous" - and if you recognize celebrities better than I do, you'll see a lot of famous people.

I'm lucky because I have a friend who restores and sells some of the most amazing cars you've ever seen. So I get to tag along. He started selling many years ago at the Barrett-Jackson and has now moved up to one of the more exclusive auctions, called the Gooding and Company. It's also in Scottsdale, but it's much smaller, and way more expensive, and just blows my mind. It's held in a tent in the parking lot next to the parking garage at the Scottsdale Galleria. No, I won't tell you who my friend is, I don't do that, but if you see a very tall man in his late fifties with a shaved head and sunglasses with a beautiful fluffy white dog, that's him.

Like I say, if you're a spectator, like I am, it's great fun. The reality of buying and selling cars like this at auction is actually pretty awful, unless you have nerves of steel, and I don't. A crazy amount of money goes back and forth, and went the auctioneer says "sold!" that's it. The most common question I hear from people is how much a car is worth, and I've learned that it's only worth what someone is willing to pay.

I have a lot of friends who do this, and I've been opening up my house to "the car guys" every year for a long time now. They bring excitement and glamor into my quiet life. They get nothing from me except a roof over their head, and they're fine with that. Sometimes I tag along, sometimes I just wish them well and watch them drive away. Either way I get to see a lot of cool cars.

If you're going to one of these auctions, and want to look like one of the rich and famous, there are some things that you will need to do. First of all, you have to look as if you don't need to impress anyone, so wear clothes with holes in them, go without shaving for a few days, that sort of thing. Of course to be sure to combine that with your Versace sunglasses - the type that cost more than the mortgage of my house. Whatever you do, don't gawk and take photos - that's for people like me!

See you at the car shows!

Looking inside of a 1954 Ferrari 250 GT Europa. I love looking at these kinds of cars! And the people-watching is fun, too!


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