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 desert through the eyes of the Phoenix pioneers


Like most people who live in the Phoenix area, I love the desert, and consider it beautiful. I love the smell after a rain, I love to see the colors of the desert, I love, well, dang it, I just love it.

But I often think about how it looked to the Phoenix pioneers in the 1860s. Nowadays all I have to do is to turn a tap to get water, and I have air conditioning in my house, and nice fresh food in my refrigerator. But back in the days of the pioneers the desert was a terrible place. Time-travel with me.

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Before the pioneers of Phoenix, the desert was raw. A horrible place, a place of thirst, where there was no food. A place of death. It may seem pleasant when you're walking on a hiking trail in Phoenix and know that you can go back and get in your car and go to the Circle K, but the pioneers were looking at the burning sun, no shade, no trees, and water that they couldn't count on. It kinda makes me wonder what they were thinking, when you look at a picture of the Arizona Canal in 1896 (up at the top of this post). I call these people "unrealistically optimistic".

They saw an oasis. They imagined with hard work they could turn the raw desert into a garden. They imagined trees, they imagined farms, they imagined life. If we could stand there with them they would say that they imagined a great city, where thousands, and maybe millions, of people would live. They imagined that the flooding would be controlled by giant dams. In my imagination I stand there in the desert, sharing a bottle of whiskey with these people whose imaginations seem so wild. I can't imagine it. I'd call them dreamers, and wonder if they had been standing out in the sun too long, drinking too much whiskey.

But they were right. And today you can see what they imagined, a city called Phoenix, Arizona. How about that?

Image at the top of this post: The Arizona Canal in 1896, where Phoenix is now.