This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California. This blog is not supported by advertising, it's supported by the generosity of my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

The rivers, washes, and creeks of the Phoenix area


I moved to Phoenix when I was a teenager, and like most people who live there, the only river I knew about was the Salt River. It was while tubing there in my early twenties that I learned the importance of using sun block! Nowadays, with my fascination for old photos of Phoenix, I have been trying to figure out the rivers, washes, and creeks.

I found this map in an old book about the Gila River, and it really caught my eye. Note that there are no roads indicated. No, that doesn't mean that there were no roads when this map was drawn, in the 1960s, it's just that this map focused on the history of the Gila River. This part of the map shows the area that I'm most interested in, the Salt River Valley and the areas to the north and south.

OK, let's take a look. Start with downtown Phoenix, that's the area underneath the word Phoenix and between Salt and R. Just to the west of it is where the Agua Fria, the Salt, and the Gila Rivers combine. Tres Rios. Note that the tributaries flow from the north and also from the south. Waterman Wash flows north towards through the Rainbow Valley. If you've never heard of Waterman Wash, or Rainbow Valley, it's not surprising, it's still mostly empty, with a few dirt roads. That is, what most of the Phoenix area looked a few generations ago.

If you've been to Wickenburg, you're familiar with the Hassayampa River, but many people don't stop to think that it flows south, and empties in the Gila River. The Hassaympa Valley, which is west of the White Tank Mountains, is where the Sun Valley Parkway is, and has been since the 1980s, one of my favorite “roads to nowhere”.

I live in Glendale, near where the Agua Fria River combines with New River. A few miles east is Cave Creek, which flows through my favorite golf course, which is between Greenway and Thunderbird Road west of 19th Avenue. So if you ever wondered why it's called Cave Creek Golf Course, that's why. By the way, if your ball goes into the wash (which is dry), you can still do a drop as if it were a water hazard. Most of the rivers, washes, and creeks in the Phoenix area don't have any water, except during flooding. And they've been that way since the Sonoran Desert began, about 10,000 years ago.

On modern maps, most of these rivers, washes, and creeks don't even show up. I'm looking at a Google map right now and even something as big as the Gila River going through the Gila River Indian Community doesn't even show up until you click to get closer. And no, I'm not blaming map makers, we really don't need to know about all of these, we just need to know where the roads are. The roads have bridged these waterways for so long that they really don't matter anymore. But they are still there, and if you see someone standing by the side of a road looking at dirt and cactus, it's just me, trying to figure it all out.

The Agua Fria River (behind me) at Lower Buckeye Road


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