Arizona was one of the major pre-Columbian cultural centers of North America, and it is one of the best places to experience ancient history in the United States. Looking out from an airplane window, it’s hard to imagine that the vast grid of Phoenix streets below obscures a network of thousand-year-old canals. Much of Arizona’s Salt River Valley was once the center of the Hohokam people, canal builders who turned the desert green growing corn. The city’s prominent modern canals often sit atop their ancient counterparts.
The region’s deep layers of history are exposed at a number of intriguing sites across the state. Here are some of my favorites, with highlights from our southwest road trip.
Just minutes from the Phoenix airport is a former Hohokam village to explore. Built along one of the aforementioned canals, Pueblo Grande was a regional center for managing water for the agrarian civilization. Over time, the desert climate has taken its toll on the original structures, which are in a more advanced state of decay than the cliff dwellings you can view elsewhere (see below). Fortunately, it’s an easy stop, and the small museum is a satisfying introduction to the history of the area.