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

How people made an oasis out of the Salt River Valley


The city of Phoenix is in the Salt River Valley, which is a desert. It's hot and dry, and it's been that way since the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago. Water flows through it, in various riparian washes, including the largest one, which is called the Salt River, but it doesn't get much rainfall. So it's a pretty tough place to live, unless you're a desert-adapted animal.

But people live there because they've turned it into an oasis. The process was difficult, but not complicated - just stop the water that flows through every year and divert it through canals. And that's what people have done. This creates a place where human beings can live, not just Gila Monsters. And if you're thinking that the first people who did this were the founders of Phoenix, think again. There were people there long before the 1860s. They are simply called "those who have left" - the Hohokam people.

I'm not exactly sure why, but when I use the word people, it seems as if indigenous people aren't really considered people? This makes my head hurt because it's a reflection of the bigotry that many people carry around with them, as if there are many races of people, not just one - the human race.


People made an oasis of the desert. They built dams, they dug canals. They planted crops, they made sure that there was water to drink during the months when there was no rain. This is what people do, they aren't Gila Monsters. And make no mistake, the soil of the Salt River Valley was, and is, fertile. The Salt River Valley is a floodplain, and yearly flooding brings the kind of soil that also made the Nile Valley in Egypt so fertile. Of course it takes a lot of work to hold back floods, and while we'll never really know why the Hohokam people left, my best guess is that they just got flooded out. A strange thing to happen in a desert, I know!

Image at the top of this post: Looking east-southeast from a Hohokam village towards the Salt River and where Tempe, Arizona is now. An oasis in the desert.

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1 comment:

  1. The story of these people is amazing, they developed the second largest canal system in the Ancient World. Today we call them the Ancient Sonoran Desert People and you can still learn about them. See the remains of the platform mound shown in the top picture and their pottery, shell jewelry and tools at Pueblo Grande Museum, part of the Phoenix City Parks.

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