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Bill Brown

A complicated man.

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Saturday I went to take a tour of the Park of Four Waters at the Pueblo Grande Museum. The site, located perhaps a half mile south of the museum, isn’t open to the public except for one guided tour on the last Saturday of the month when it’s cool. I’ve wanted to attend one of these tours for the last several months but something always came up. I’m glad that I finally went because it was quite a memorable experience.

I’m kind of a nerd when it comes to history: I can get really excited about very mundane things. For example, I’ve spent twenty minutes looking at and contemplating head of the Old Crosscut Canal that joins the Grand and Arizona Canals. I studied it from a variety of angles, took in the adjoining land, and imagined the people designing, building, and maintaining it. I then spent several hours researching this one particular canal. Water is such a vital part of Phoenix history that I bristle when people act like it’s unlimited or can’t appreciate the struggle that the early settlers went through to make the desert hospitable.

The Park of Four Waters is a small section of land where two ancient Hohokam canals are preserved. The Hohokam dug approximately 500 miles of canals. Their extensive canal system inspired Phoenix founder Jack Swilling to start his own canal project to irrigate the Salt River Valley. The canal he dug with his employees—known as the Swilling Ditch or the Town Ditch after he left Phoenix—is located not far from this place underneath one of Sky Harbor’s runways. This, and the fact that many of Phoenix’s early canals were made from widening and deepening Hohokam ones, is a testament to the sagacity of that ancient people.

The two canals we saw were actually considered two channels of a single canal. One channel was cut like a V so that water would flow faster and farther; the other was cut like a semicircle, which kept the water moving rather slowly so that it wouldn’t decimate lateral canals. One wouldn’t be faulted for missing the significance of these two ditches since they looked like rolling hills. The fact that they have lasted for at least 600 years in much the same condition was awesome.

Near these two Hohokam canals was a modern canal of uncertain origin that looked to join the Grand at the point of the Old Crosscut. It was fairly wide and deep but entirely made out of concrete. It followed the same line as the Old Crosscut would have if you continued it down to the Salt River bank, but the Old Crosscut would never have followed that route since it strictly joined two canals. That’s why I’m not sure of when it was made, what it was called, or even who built it.

Its origin is suspect because it was likely built by the Salt River Project though it would have gone right through the Tovrea stockyards and could have been a private canal. This, of course, merits further research. I will also post a gallery of the hundred or so pictures I took since the Web is a veritable desert when it comes to the Park of Four Waters.