Water in the Desert: Arizona Road Trip Edition


Originally uploaded by heinemanfleck.

Lissa and I just back from a lovely weeks’ trip around Arizona. The main purpose was a visit to the University of Arizona and environs in Tucson for a project we’re working on. We spent a delightful day at the Laboratory of Tree Ring Research, made a pilgrimage to Tumamoc Hill to learn about packrat middens, and I got my first real taste from Julie Cole of how corals are used in paleoclimate reconstructions. As always, a huge thanks to all the scientists who are always so generous with their time and energy helping me understand what they do.

We had some play time, too, wandering through Saguaro National Park. I love desert ecosystems deeply, but probably the most fun for me of the entire trip was vicarious – watching Lissa have absolutely batshit crazy fun taking cactus pictures.

Some water stuff, too. I don’t know the Arizona water story very well, but found Phoenix absolutely fascinating. It’s a city that really didn’t take off until the invention of air conditioning in the 1950s, but it has taken off now in a really big way. My favorite water stop was the little Park of the Canals in Mesa (sorry, can’t find a good web page describing it). It preserves old canals dug by the Hohokam, who lived there before the Europeans arrived. Then in the late 1870s, Mormon settlers dug a lateral off of the Salt River and ran water seemingly uphill onto the mesa (hence the town’s name), digging out and reusing old Hohokam canals.

Mesa claims to be the largest suburb in the United States, and I believe it. But up on the north end of town, in a lowland along the dry riverbed of the Salt, we still find old citrus groves irrigated by lateral ditches taking water from the giant concrete lined canals built by the 20th-century descendents of the Hohokam and the Mormons. Like a throwback to my Southern California youth.

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