Exploring the history of Phoenix, Arizona, just for fun. Advertising-free, supported by my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

How people lived in the desert back in the day in Phoenix, Arizona

As someone who's interested in the history of Phoenix, I spend a lot of time wondering how people lived in the desert in old-time Phoenix. And that really spans a lot of time, from recent history to ancient. I sometimes wonder how people dared to climb Camelback Mountain before the invention of cell phones (actually I'm old enough to have done that)? And I very often ask friend who grew up in Phoenix how in the world they did that? I grew up in Minneapolis, where you could actually go out and play all day in the summer. The list goes on and on.

Of course the answer is always the same: they did what they could. Those who couldn't take the desert either died, or moved on elsewhere. The people who stayed learned how to live with it. And from the research I've been doing, the desert has been a very harsh place going back to the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago. Hot and dry!

What really boggles my mind are the native people, going back to the Hohokams. They didn't have air conditioning, or cell phones, and they didn't even have metal. They dug canals with stone tools! All I can say is these people must have been tough - I can't imagine. Just walking out to my car in the summer in a parking lot is brutal for me, and I'm wearing sunscreen!

In the more modern era, technology was available for comfort, but then as now, it cost money and not everyone could afford it. The people in Hyatt's Camp, in the pic up there at Cave Creek and Thunderbird Road in the 1920s weren't as comfortable as the wealthier people over at the Biltmore, who were sipping champagne, chilled on ice. But these people did it, they survived, and many thrived, with their descendants now living in air conditioned houses with refrigerators full of bottled water. Hyatt's Camp could have had well water, and I really don't want to think about what it would have looked like, or tasted like.

Of course, you can skip all of this unpleasantness by doing no research at all, and just imagining that life was easier "back in the day", that the temperature was as balmy as Hawaii, there were blue lakes and rivers that looked like Minnesota, and that deer and antelope played in fields of tall grass. And in a way, I kinda like that thought. It's a fantasy, but it's pleasant. The reality was harsh, but people did it.

Image at the top of this post: Hyatt's Desert Camp in the 1920s, near Thunderbird Road and Cave Creek Road, Cactus, Arizona. North of Sunnyslope.

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