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 meanings behind the names of the mountains in Phoenix, Arizona


I've spent all of my adult life in Phoenix and Southern California, and I have to admit that I get a little uncomfortable when I can't see the mountains. No, I'm no expert on them, it's just that they are like old friends. If you live around mountains, you know what I mean.

It wasn't until fairly recently that I decided that I would try to learn the names of all of the mountains that have been friends of mine for so long, and I'm still working on it, so here is a little bit of what I know:

• North Mountain and South Mountain. Although I like to poke fun at the fact that Phoenix has long since grown around these mountains, they never indicated the city limits, anyway. They're the northern and southern edges of the Salt River Valley. North Mountain is north of Northern and South Mountain is south of Southern. I didn't say that this was going to be difficult.

• The White Tank Mountains. Those are the mountains that you see to the west beyond the 101 freeway, in the west valley. They were named after the water tanks (natural) that were found in them, and are still there. In the desert, water is important!

• The Estrella Mountains. If you’re a neighbor of mine, in the west valley, take a look south. You’re actually looking at the north end of a very large mountain range, named for the Spanish word for stars. Many people think that South Mountain and the Estrella Mountains are the same, but there's a sizable gap between them, and besides, South Mountain goes mostly east and west and the Estrellas go north and south. If you have a lot of time on your hands, drive south on 51st Avenue and just keep going, and going. When you get to the Gila River Indian Community, you will get the best view of the Estrellas.

• Camelback Mountain. Yes, I know I'm not going in any particular order, but you have to admit that Camelback Mountain is the “signature” mountain of Phoenix. It was named, simply enough, because it looks like a camel lying down. Its head faces west. The best view of it is from Camelback Road and about 48th Street. That's Camelback Mountain in the 1920s in the photo at the top of this post.

• Piestewa Peak. Named after Lori Piestewa of Tuba City, Arizona, a American Indian woman who died in the Iraq War in 2003. Many Phoenicians still call it Squaw Peak, and there are still streets and signs that say Squaw Peak. By the way, the peak is just part of the Phoenix Mountains, which have great hiking trails.

There you go. Yeah, I know this is just a start. There is so much more to see, and to learn! Thank you for history adventuring with me.


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