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 Arizona Falls, Phoenix, Arizona


Yesterday I visited the Arizona Falls. It's on the Arizona Canal just east of 56th Street at Indian School Road. It's been there since 1885, and if you've never noticed it, and if you kinda don't believe me that it's really there, I can't blame you. But it is.

The Arizona Falls in 1885, Camelback Mountain is in the background.

The Arizona Falls in 1895. From a postcard.

I've always had a fascination for the canals of Phoenix. I've never lived anywhere that has canals, and most of the people I know confuse them with storm drains. They're not. Canals bring water into the city, drains carry it away. Phoenix, of course, has both. And of course all cities have ways to bring water in, but it's usually covered up. My favorite example is the gigantic aqueduct that brings water to Los Angeles from the Owens Valley. It's just pipes, so it's not much to look at. Phoenix canals are different, they're beautiful, and they have always been meant to be seen. From the day that they were built, they proclaimed that here was proof of life in the desert, that Phoenix could be an oasis.


The Arizona Canal, and the Arizona Falls, in 1908. From a postcard.

When I visit the Arizona Falls I try to imagine what it all looked like in 1885. Raw desert as far as the eye could see. And although the desert looked the same then as it did now, people didn't see it as "scenic" - they saw it as a terrible place, hot and dry. A good place to die, no place to live. And then I imagine it just a few years after the completion of the canal, which goes from waaayy east of Scottsdale, to west of where I'm writing this right now, in Glendale. And it began the real transformation of the desert into an oasis. Because there were trees planted there. Instead of dust dirt and sand, there was life, and the trees proved it, marching for miles and miles along the canal.


The Arizona Canal in the 1920s

The Arizona Falls was a place that people visited just to see it. People had picnics there. I wouldn't be surprised if a bunch of darned kids didn't do death-defying jumps there. It must have been amazing to see.

Of course, it started being taken for granted not long afterwards, and the Arizona Falls became a place for generating power, hidden under a building for decades. Then the building fell into disrepair, and the Arizona Falls became just another "backwater", just another place that had once been beautiful that had been utilitarian, and then forgotten. When you go there, you'll see the remnants of the old machinery that was inside of that building, which is thankfully gone now.

Yes, I know the Arizona Falls isn't Niagra Falls. It's not even close. And it isn't even close to the falls near where I grew up in Minneapolis, called the Minnehaha Falls. But the fact that it's even there, right in the middle of the desert, is what amazes me. It's worth a look.


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