In Greek and Roman mythology, the phoenix would rise from the ashes of its predecessor. Sometime after Jack Swilling arrived in the Salt River Valley in 1858, he discovered the remains of more than 200 kilometres of canals, some upwards of four metres deep. 

The waterways had been hand-dug by the Hohokam people, who it is believed lived in the valley for a thousand years or more. They used water siphoned from the local rivers to grow cotton, corn and tobacco. The Hohokam people remained in the valley until 600 or 700 years ago, when they left the region, possibly because of a severe drought. 

It was those original Hohokam canals that Swilling and other early settlers reclaimed from the shifting landscape, transforming the valley once again from desert into agricultural land, and allowing Phoenix to rise as a city. 

1. Walk or bike alongside the Arizona Canal

The Phoenix area is crossed by more than 280 km of canals, more than Amsterdam and Venice combined. The Arizona Canal cuts through downtown Scottsdale, passing through Waterfront, a district where both sides of the canal were developed with restaurants, shops and park spaces in 2008. The improvements have been expanded in recent years, with a multi-use trail system—both paved and tamped earth—now following the canal through Scottsdale and the other communities that comprise the Greater Phoenix area. 

2. Take a boat cruise on Saguaro Lake

Some of Phoenix’s pre and early history is shared during a narrated cruise aboard the Desert Belle, a two-storey boat that plies the water of Saguaro Lake, located about 40 minutes east of the city. It is one of four lakes created when a series of dams were built along the Salt River in the first three decades of the 1900s. Saguaro is located in the Tonto National Forest and is a favourite among kayakers, fishermen and paddleboarders. 

3. Paddle along the Salt River

Below the last dam on the Salt River, the waterway meanders over the desert landscape, its banks expanding and contracting with the changing seasons. The river is an amazing spot to kayak and paddleboard—Arizona Outback Adventures offers excursions—with the difficultly of the activities changing depending on the flow of the water. A journey down the river may include a sighting of the wild horses that regularly emerge from the shore-side trees to drink from the Salt.

This story appears in the March 2019 issue of WestJet Magazine.