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

The laterals of old-time, and modern Phoenix, Arizona


To really understand Phoenix and its history, you have to follow the water. That is, you have to see how canals have been used since prehistoric times to bring in water for irrigation. I have always had a fascination with the canals of Phoenix, which to most people driving around are completely invisible. They really aren't - they're open canals that always have water in them, and you can ride your bike next to them, or fish in them, if you want to.

If you had lived in old-time Phoenix, not only would you have seen the canals, but you would have seen the laterals. Laterals are the little "mini-canals" that bring water from the canals directly into neighborhoods. They're still there, and most of them have been covered. But in some areas of town, like where I was in Peoria this morning, you can still see open laterals. That's a lateral there in the pic at the top of this post, which I took just a few hours ago. No, there's nothing special about it, it's just a typical lateral, which you used to see all over Phoenix. In fact, when I lived in Tempe in the 1980s, my neighborhood had open laterals, which have now been covered. The water is still there, still flowing, but the closed laterals are just less messy, and smelly. Sorry about that, but it's true. You really don't want to romanticize too much about open laterals in old-time Phoenix - they were muddy and gunky and had nasty smelly stuff in them, along with the water.


I'm told by people who grew up in Phoenix that as kids they often cooled off by playing in the canals, and the laterals. It's a hot and humid day today, but as I looked at the water I thought that I would never have been that young, and that brave!

Still, it's just river water, really the same as the creeks in Minneapolis that I played in as a kid. They had mud, and gunk, and creepy-crawlies, because that's nature. Come to think of it, I really didn't like those, either! I liked swimming pools, and when I moves to Phoenix I found a LOT of them.

So anyway, those are laterals. And anytime you see one, you're time-traveling back to what old-time Phoenix looked like. Thank you for looking at laterals with me!

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1 comment:

  1. Before the canals were lined with concrete, they supported ribbons of 'old growth', 'water wasting' (SRP's words) Cottonwood Forests cooling the air, providing habitat, much appreciated shade, and treehouses (shhhh). I was told by more adventuresome, older kids, that you could Tarzan through the overstory, even across streets like 15th ave which was but a lane back in those days.

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