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

What Phoenix, Arizona looked like before the arrival of people


I often hear people talk about how idyllic the Phoenix, Arizona area must have been before the arrival of people. Apparently rivers flowed, deer and antelope played, everything was lush, etc. But it's not true, sorry. Before the arrival of people (and yes, that includes native people) it was just a raw desert. If you want to see what Phoenix looked like hundreds of years ago, just drive out into the desert today. That's it. All rivers, including the Salt River, were typical riparian washes that ran hard after a rain or a snow melt up north, and then dried up. The area was brutally hot, as it is today. People didn't turn this area into a desert, it already was. People turned it into an oasis.

The Hohokam people at Pueblo Grande. The view is looking southeast towards where Tempe is now, and South Mountain.

When people came to the Salt River Valley (yes, including native people), they dug canals. When the water flowed, they directed it towards areas where they could grow crops. People have been doing this sort of irrigation farming for thousands of years - just go look at the ancient Egyptians. With this type of irrigation, people can make farmland out of desert.

When pioneer settlers came out here in the 1860s, they saw abandoned canals. The people who were living there at the time described them as belonging to a race of people "who had gone" called the Hohokams. So, the early Phoenix pioneers figured that it could be done again. Darrell Duppa, who was particularly poetic, called the area Phoenix, because he saw a city would grow again from the ashes. He was right.

Image at the top of this post: the Arizona Canal in 1896, flowing through what would someday be Phoenix, Arizona.


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