Desert character. It can’t be conjured, landscaped or kindled with twinkling bulbs. John Ford knew that. So did Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis L’Amour. Spend a few days in Greater Phoenix and you’ll understand, too. America’s sixth-largest city still has cowboys and red-rock buttes and the kind of cactus most people see only in cartoons. It is the heart of the Sonoran Desert and the gateway to the Grand Canyon, and its history is a testament to the spirit of Puebloans, ranchers, miners and visionaries. This timeless Southwestern backdrop is the perfect setting for family vacations, weekend adventures or romantic getaways. Each year, 14 to 16 million leisure visitors travel to Greater Phoenix. They enjoy resorts and spas infused with Native American tradition, golf courses that stay emerald green all year, mountain parks crisscrossed with trails, and sports venues that host the biggest events in the nation. The best way to learn about America’s sunniest metropolis, of course, is to experience it firsthand. The following information will give you a snapshot of what to expect before your visit and provide sound reference material after you leave.
Greater Phoenix encompasses 2,000 square miles and more than 20 incorporated cities,including Glendale, Cottsdale, Tempe and Mesa. Maricopa County, in which Phoenix is located, covers more than 9,000 square miles. Phoenix’s elevation is 1,117 feet, and the city’s horizon is defined by three distinct mountains: South Mountain, Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak.
Phoenix’s rich history—both living and preserved—is a testament to the spirit of puebloans, ranchers, miners and visionaries. It is a city that has not forgotten its past, as evidenced by the Southwestern architecture and Native American influences woven into the daily lifestyle of Phoenix residents. Phoenix’ earliest inhabitants were the Hohokam Indians. This tribe thrived in the region until about 1450 A.D. There is no record of the Hohokam after that, although they are believed to be ancestors of the Pima Indians. In the Pima language “hohokam” means “those who have gone.”
For almost 25,000 years, Native Americans were alone in what is now Arizona. Archaeological evidence supports the existence of three major tribal groups: the Ancestral Puebloans of the state’s northern plateau highlands; the Mogollon people of the northeastern and eastern mountain belt; and the Hohokam. Today there are 22 Native American tribes, communities and nations in Arizona—more than in any other state—and more than 300,000 Americans Indians call them home. These tribal communities include:
Ak-Chin Indian Community Cocopah Tribe Colorado River Indian Tribes Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation Fort Mojave Indian Tribe Fort Yuma-Quechan Tribe Gila River Indian Community Havasupai Tribe Hopi Tribe Hualapai Tribe Kaibab Paiute Tribe Navajo Nation Pascau Yaqui Tribe Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community San Carlos Apache Tribe San Juan Southern Paiute Tohono O’odham Nation Tonto Apache Tribe White Mountain Apache Tribe Yavapai-Apache Nation Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe (The Zuni Tribe has a land base in Arizona, but its population lives in New Mexico.)
In the mid-1500s, the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in Arizona, searching for the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola. Although they found little gold, they introduced the native people to cattle and horse raising and a variety of new agricultural crops and techniques. Until the mid-1850s, the Native American tribes accepted the few miners, traders and farmers who settled in Arizona. As the number of white settlers grew, however, the Apache, Navajo, Yavapai, Hualapai and Paiute tribes of the mountains and plateaus resented the encroachment on their land, and battles broke out. The military was called in, and eventually the tribes were confined to government reservations. The ensuing decades were an ordeal for Arizona’s natives, but they survived with the same diligence that enabled their ancestors to thrive in the Southwest. The settlement that would become Phoenix was built on the banks of the Salt River in the early 1860s. One of the city’s first settlers gave Phoenix its name, predicting that a great city would arise from the ancient Hohokam ruins like the legendary phoenix bird that was said to have risen from its own ashes. Mythology suggested the phoenix bird was immortal, rising from its ashes every 500 years.
The city of Phoenix officially was recognized on May 4, 1868, when the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors formed an election precinct there. With the construction of Phoenix’s first railroad in 1887, the city drew settlers from all over the United States. In 1889, it was declared the capital of the Arizona territory. Statehood was celebrated on Feb. 14, 1912, and George P. Hunt was elected Arizona’s first governor. The future of Greater Phoenix is promising, as new “settlers” and visitors flock to the metropolis to enjoy the Southwestern lifestyle. Today Phoenix is the sixth-largest city in the nation, with an estimated population of 4.3 million in the metropolitan area (according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics). Phoenix’s ancient past is preserved in several ruin sites, including Pueblo Grande Museum and Archeological Park. Pueblo Grande has a full-time archaeologist on site to help visitors explore and understand the culture of the Hohokam.
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