“I’m stuck in my ways.”

Gila Gravity Main tunnel, Arizona

Gila Gravity Main tunnel, Arizona

It was only when I was captioning and filing my pictures from my recent tours of the old bits of Arizona’s Lower Colorado River water infrastructure that I noticed what the graffiti here said: “I’m stuck in my ways.”

It’s a surreal spot – springing from the side of a harsh desert canyon, a remarkable flow of water, bigger than the Rio Grande. It’s one of the two tunnels on the Gila Gravity Main Canal, which carries about 200 billion gallons of water per year (an average in the neighborhood of 1,000 cubic feet per second, or 700,000-plus acre feet per year for you water nerds) from Imperial Dam to farmers to the south. Mittry Brothers Construction Company built two tunnels in 1937-38 under a contract with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The canal hugs the foothills of the Laguna Mountains as it winds down the valley, often with the east bank simply carved out of mountain rock.

In winter, this water grows your lettuce.


  • History: Gila Project, by Tina Marie Bell, USBR, 1997 (pdf)
  • Water numbers: Colorado River Accounting and Water Use Report, Arizona, California, and Nevada, 2013 (pdf)
  • Current Gila Main diversions: USGS


  1. Know the spot quite well as it was a favorite catfishing hole. Many Friday nights we spent drinking Coors beer and looking at our fishing rods with the light of my Coleman lantern. We often wondered if anyone had ever tried to float through the tunnel?

    The Gila project pdf was a good read as I lived in the area and didn’t know the full history. It even explained why the 161kv lines ran down from Parker Dam (the lines running adjacent to AZ Hwy 95). Looks like the power ran to a Reclamation pumping plant on road 9E. I lived on 9E and within walking distance of the pumping plant (next to the railroad tracks).

    Another favorite place was the Wellton Mohawk Canal in the area of the abandoned McPhee bridge http://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/15235 . This area was a great place to hunt. My German Shorthair Pointer loved to go here. Probably haven’t changed much since I lived there.


  2. DG – There’s a whole story to be done about the irrigation canal fishing culture down there. I’ve some great pics of a sort of totem pole thing along the AAC above Bard with these staggeringly large, really gross giant fish heads bolted to it – carp, I think.

  3. John,

    Another local culture story could be over the use of Senator’s Wash as a recreation spot. This was the preferred place to kill a Sunday afternoon. It was a delightful place to swim as it was clean in comparison to the river.


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