A fascination with rivers and creeks in the Phoenix, Arizona area
I grew up in Minneapolis, where rivers and creeks have water in them all of the time. But in the desert, it's different. Although something may be labeled as a river, or a creek, it's really just temporary drainage. The rain and the snow melt from up north and northeast Arizona comes flowing through normally-dry washes like Cave Creek, and drain south-southwest. Rivers like the Hassayampa, and the Agua Fria (which I'm standing next to in the photo, at Lower Buckeye Road), are mostly just very wide, unstable sandy areas with sparse vegetation, and where the water remains for tree roots to reach, trees. So if you're traveling around the Salt River Valley, or thereabouts, don't look for water in rivers and creeks, look for things growing, from creosote to trees.
Old maps of the Phoenix area are marked with rivers, not because the water flowed all of the time (a common misconception - there are even groups that insist that these rivers were *navigable* - you know, with boats), but because they represented a challenge to cross. If you've ever driven down into a riverbed in the Phoenix area, you know that it can be treacherous, even when it looks dry - shifting sand, mud, that sort of thing. And pulling a wagon, or driving a Model T, down into these riverbeds, which people had to do until bridges were built, was a tricky business. Nowadays we zoom past these obstacles on bridges, and don't even notice them.
At the risk of sounding like a commercial for the Maricopa County Flood Control District, they have done an incredible job. So much so that most people who live in the area have no idea how much water flows by, under bridges, and through storm drains. And as an historian, it has made my job difficult to even find all of these waterways, which used to be so important to the people of Phoenix - to avoid!
By the way, if you're interested in time-traveling back to see the Phoenix of the pioneers, there are still plenty of places in the valley that haven't been completely flood-controlled. Take a look - but don't cross when flooded!
Posted by Brad Hall