- Where to Go
- The Best of the Valley of the Sun
- Wild West Adventure
- Let Scottsdale Rock Your World
- Finding Water in the Sonoran Desert
- Spring Training
- Arizona Family Road Trip
- Phoenix Points of Pride
- Southwestern Culture and Heritage
- Nocturnal Scottsdale
- Exploring Phoenix’s Architecture
- Unexpected Arizona
- Desert Chic
- Chilly Drinks and Cool Eats in Scottsdale
Despite its inhospitable appearance, the Sonoran Desert has proven to be an irresistible temptation for waves of settlers, beginning with early Native American hunters and followed by a succession Spanish explorers, Catholic missionaries, 19th-century miners and ranchers, and modern-day pioneers, all searching for opportunity. These generations of immigrants define much of Arizona’s history, beginning 12,000 years ago when the first humans roamed the area. These Paleo-Indian people followed big game around the region, hunting them in small groups. However, it wasn’t until 300 B.C. that permanent civilizations began to form, thanks in large part to the development of agriculture, which requires a long-term, communal effort.
Two major groups emerged during this time, leaving a lasting legacy. The Hohokam laid the foundations for modern Phoenix. They migrated from Mesoamerica (present-day Mexico) just before the birth of Christ, bringing with them crops like corn and beans. Small groups settled along the banks of the Salt River, and over time, they dug miles and miles of canals to create a dependable source of water for their fields. Villages developed, and residents lived in pit houses, igloo-like structures that were built over holes 1–2 feet deep and covered by a dome of sticks and brush, then plastered with mud. As the population grew, a complex culture developed, with elaborate pottery, organized competitions on ceremonial ball courts, and a sophisticated understanding of mathematics and astronomy, which allowed them to expanded their canals and track crop cycles.
Just north, the Sinagua people were developing their own civilization, having expanded from northern Arizona into the Verde Valley and Sedona region in about A.D. 900. This complex society sustained itself by hunting, farming, and gathering indigenous plants. They constructed large hilltop villages made of rock and mud, as well as cliffside dwellings to shelter their communities. Unlike the earthen mounds of the Hohokam, these pueblo ruins still dot the high Sonoran Desert, as well as rocky outcroppings near Flagstaff. The Sinagua thrived from about 1100 to 1350, as they sat at the crossroads of several trade routes that stretched from California to the Four Corners region to the Hohokam villages in the south.
This golden age came to an abrupt end, though. Around 1400, the Hohokam and Sinagua civilizations began to collapse. The causes are a bit murky, though it may have been triggered by a combination of drought, floods, and perhaps internal strife. Some anthropologists have suggested that the civilizations had grown too large, too complex, and too interdependent to sustain themselves. With as many as 50,000 people living in Phoenix alone, the desert’s resources may have been stretched beyond their limits. By the end of the 1400s, the Hohokam and Sinagua had abandoned their pueblos and canals, with some establishing compact farming villages scattered across the region and others blending into smaller tribes. The modern Pima (Akimel O’odham) trace their roots to the Hohokam, as do the Papago (Tohono O’odham), while the Hopi, Yavapai, and six other tribes consider the Sinagua to be their ancestors.
© Jeff Ficker from Moon Phoenix, Scottsdale & Sedona, 1st edition