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New River in old-time, and modern Peoria, Arizona


I biked along the wonderful trail that parallels New River in Peoria, Arizona yesterday. The best way to get to it, by the way, is at the Rio Vista Recreation Center, which is just north of Thunderbird Road, and west of the 101 Freeway. The photo at the top of this post I took from the trail, looking east towards the freeway, across New River.

Because I have a silly sense of humor, I've always thought that New River was a goofy name. I mean, when the pioneers named it over 100 years ago, it was New River. And it still is. OK, well that's funny to me.

Map showing New River in Peoria in 1909

But seriously, it's not river at all, it's a wash. In fact, the Sonoran Desert really doesn't have rivers, in spite of the names put on maps, they're washes. And technically, they're riparian washes, which just means that a little bit of water flows all of the time, which may not even be visible, but that water supports the kind of vegetation that you don't usually see in the desert. In fact, to see a river around Phoenix, I tell people to look for the trees. The water has been rushing down through these washes for 10,000 years (since the end of the last Ice Age), then drying up in the desert heat, and becoming dry in spots, and muddy mostly elsewhere.

Looking north from the Rio Vista pedestrian bridge over New River, Peoria, Arizona. The water is flowing towards you.

The pioneers had to wait until the land was as dry as possible to cross these washes. Nowadays they're crossed by bridges that most people don't even realize are bridges. And when I was on the trail I crossed on the pedestrian/bicycle bridge at Rio Vista Park, and then crossed at Olive (there's no crossing on Cactus).

If you want to see what Phoenix was like before it was all paved over, it's easy to do. This area is only paved enough to provide a safe bike path. The loudest sound is the wind through the trees, the hum of a dragonfly overhead, the scurry of quail and roadrunners.

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