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

Crossing the Arizona Canal in modern, and old-time Phoenix, Arizona


I've always had a fascination with the canals of Phoenix, and the one that's closest to me is the Arizona Canal, which runs from east of Scottsdale all of the way to Peoria. And if you've driven around Phoenix much, you've crossed it many times, and probably never even noticed it.

It's been there since 1885, and it carries water from the Salt and Verde rivers into the Phoenix metro area. It's the water that's used to irrigate, and it's also your drinking water. The coffee that I'm drinking right now as I write is is that water. Yes, of course the drinking water is cleaned up - there are water processing plants along the canal.

Looking east along the Arizona Canal in the 1930s, just south of Camelback Mountain.

When you consider how long the canal is, you're probably wondering if it was a bit of a barrier for people who wanted to cross it, and it was. This was true of all of the canals, including the Grand Canal, which runs parallel to the Arizona Canal, and is closer to downtown Phoenix. Bridges had to be built, and if you wanted to cross, you had to cross at the bridge, which was of course on Central Avenue. Then bridges were built on all major intersections. And that's why that as you drive around Phoenix you really never notice the canals, and you're certainly never inconvenienced.

Yesterday I biked up to the Arizona Canal and crossed it at 75th Avenue. That's the view from the crossing there, looking due east. The canal narrows down quite a bit there, and on the west side of 75th Avenue, it goes underground, where it eventually just spills out into the Agua Fria River.

The next crossing is a mile east, which I did in just a few minutes with pedal power, but which would have taken me quite a while if I had walked. And people did walk along the canal, and if they wanted to cross the canal, they were out of luck until they got to a bridge. Of course, in old-time Phoenix the Arizona Canal was pretty far north of the city limits, so it was an adventure to go out there.

Footbridge across the Arizona Canal in 1902, Camelback Mountain is in the background.

The canals are still an adventure. They're right in town, but far from the madding crowd. I see people fishing, walking their dogs, biking, that sort of thinbg. If you've been there you know, and if you haven't it's hard to describe. And the canals are easy to get to - there's access at every major intersection. I'll see you there!


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