At 17,000 acres, South Mountain Park in Phoenix is the largest city park in the world. South Mountain is not your traditional “park,” with ponds and playgrounds on carefully tended lawns. South Mountain Park is a desert mountain preserve, with 58 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Desert critters live here, too: watch for snakes and bunnies! Non-hikers can take a scenic drive along South Mountain’s paved roads—no hiking shoes necessary.
For over 1,000 years (A.D. 600-1450) the Hohokam people inhabited the area that is now called Phoenix. The Hohokam built over 135 miles of irrigation canals snaking from the Gila and Salt rivers, making the desert livable—talk about ancient ingenuity! The majority of the remains of these ancient canals lie underneath the streets of metropolitan Phoenix, although some are still in use today.
The Valley of the Sun still holds true to its scofflaw Old West history. Phoenix (and most of Arizona) does not participate in Daylight Savings Time. The city refuses to turn clocks forward or back. The Navajo Nation, located in the northeastern part of the state, is the only area that follows DST. Phoenicians like to do things their way.
Tovrea Castle is a wedding cake-shaped mansion perched on top of a hill smack dab in the middle of Phoenix. This residence was built between 1928 and 1930, and the family surrounded the house with hundreds of saguaro cactus. The house has been empty since the late 1960s, and the city of Phoenix purchased the property in 1993. Unsuccessful efforts have been made since then to restore the property and open it up for tours.
The construction of the capitol building in Phoenix began in 1898. The domed roof of the structure is covered in lots of copper—the equivalent to 4,800,000 pennies! The rest of the building is made largely from granite and malapai indigenous to Arizona. Officials in the Arizona Territory built the structure as an appeal to demonstrate that Arizona was ready to become a state. Guess it helped—statehood was granted in 1912.
The geographical area of Phoenix and surrounding cities is known as “The Valley of the Sun.” Mountains surround the Phoenix metro area, while the city itself, with the exception of some good hiking peaks dotted throughout the town, is fairly flat. Phoenix is surrounded by the Superstitions, the White Tanks, Sierra Estrellas and the McDowell Mountains. Dust bowl? Maybe. But the ranges also provide some shelter from extreme winds.
The land that was purchased to establish the modern Phoenix area (320 acres of it) was purchased for $550—all in gold coin. What is that amount in today’s dollars? About $35,000. Real estate magnates that hover over the city these days would kill for that deal.
Phoenix wasn’t originally the capital of Arizona. In the Arizona Territorial days, Prescott (about 1.5 hours north of Phoenix) was the area’s hub. Bickering officials throughout the Territory vied for capital status; the title bounced to Tucson, back to Prescott, then finally settling in the Valley. Phoenix was officially named as the capital the same day Arizona was declared a state—February 14, 1912.
Papago Park sits at the edge of Phoenix, and has a history as old as the rocky hills inside its boundaries. The geographical formations inside the city park were formed 6 to 15 million years ago, and the Hohokam people used the giant Hole in the Rock (now the main attraction for hikers) to keep track of the seasons. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the area was used as a reservation for the Maricopa and Pima tribes. After the reservation was moved, a POW camp was built on the site to house 3,100 prisoners of World War II. The park now enjoys a quieter, less volatile status: hiking, biking and climbing.
The Phoenix area is known for the “Five Cs” of commerce in the state: Cattle, Copper, Citrus, Climate and Cotton. Sixty percent of the nation’s copper comes from Arizona mines; top-quality Pima cotton is grown within city limits; and beef from Arizona’s ranches is shipped as far away as Japan. Phoenix’s dry, sunny climate is the perfect growing condition for citrus—grapefruit, lemons, oranges and limes abound and are shipped all over the country. The last “C,” climate, is a reference to the tourist industry and the cash it brings to the city.
Master history, Phoenix-style? Check out the history of Palm Springs.