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Understanding the Scottsdale Wash


If you're like most normal grownups in the Phoenix area, as you drive around, you pay attention to the signs, the traffic signals, that sort of thing. If you want to get somewhere, you may look at a map, or use your GPS, following the roads. If, however, you're like me, you look at the mountains, the rivers, the canals, and the washes. Thankfully I've never had to drive all that much! If I told you that I live south of Skunk Creek, not far from the Agua Fria River, it would probably make no sense to you. I used to live along the Cave Creek Wash, south of the Arizona Canal, back in the early 90s.

If that makes sense to you, you're kinda weird. And so talking about the Scottsdale Wash appeals to my weirdness, and makes a lot of people go "huh?" I'll see if I can explain what I see.

Take a look at a map and strip away all of the streets, seeing only the geography. If you're looking at Scottsdale, you'll see a very prominent feature, which is a wash (a usually dry small river bed) that runs parallel to Scottsdale Road, between it and Pima Road. If you've never seen it, or paid attention to it, it's not surprising, it's like all of the washes, rivers, and canals in the Phoenix area, you just cross over it on a bridge that just looks like any other part of the road.

Run your finger along a satellite view of Scottsdale and you'll see it as a swath of green, with parks, golf courses, lakes, just like the old washes in Phoenix are. Start just south of the Scottsdale Airport, and go south to the Salt River, which also a mostly dry river bed, it's just a whole lot bigger and water was diverted out of it starting in the 1870s. When it rains, the water from the Scottsdale Wash flows south and empties in the Salt River. All of the water in the Phoenix area flows southwest, and the Salt River empties in to the Gila River, just south of where I'm writing this now, on down to Yuma, and empties out at the Gulf of California. So, yes, all water in Phoenix flows to the ocean. I like to watch raindrops on my window here in Glendale and picture them ending up in the Pacific Ocean, which they will.

The dilemma with the Scottsdale Wash is how to control the flooding and not make it an eyesore, which they've done a lot of in Los Angeles. When I tell people that they're looking at a river in LA, when they see miles of poured concrete, most people don't believe me. The Los Angeles River has been completely controlled for so long that no one really gives it a thought. It isn't as if the river (it's actually just a wash) is going to flood, it's channeled to the ocean. And it works well and is so ugly that it's absolutely repulsive. The next time you're in LA, as a local to take you down to walk along the river and they'll just laugh at you. It's nothing but concrete and ugliness.

The most effective and cheapest way to control the flooding in the Scottsdale Wash is to do exactly the same thing Los Angeles did - pour concrete and create a channel. And this would satisfy people whose only interest is efficiency and low cost. But Scottsdale is not a utilitarian place, it's a place of beauty, a place that tourists come from all over the world to see. So turning the wash into an eyesore isn't something that really gets serious thought from the City of Scottsdale. Instead they're making an effort to make it beautiful. And it won't satisfy either extreme, but I agree with what they're doing.

I'm just starting to learn about the Scottsdale Wash, in fact I'm not really sure what to call it. I'll let you know what I find out.

Image at the top of this post: Looking east just south of McDowell Road and east of Miller, Scottsdale, Arizona.

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History Adventuring posts are shared there daily including "then and now" photos, billboards, aerials, videos, and super high-definition photos of historic Phoenix, Arizona. Discounts for seniors, students, teachers, and veterans.