On the mountain tops we stand
All the world at our command
We have opened up the soil
With our teardrops
And our toil
--Gordon Lightfoot (Canadian Railroad Trilogy)
That people can move to the Salt River Valley from the Midwest and turn on a reliable tap or jump in a shimmering swimming pool, never even wondering where the water originates, is testimony to the mighty acts and sacrifices of previous generations. Their spirit and grit are lost, not only in Arizona but probably all around an enervated America.
Today's transplants would never know it, but they live in one of the world's great fertile river valleys. But unlike the Nile and Euphrates, the Salt is dangerously unpredictable. It floods. It dries up to nearly nothing. In the end, it destroyed the most advanced hydraulic society north of the Aztecs, which we call the Hohokam.
It very nearly did the same to the Americans who found the valley after the Civil War, having sat there empty for centuries as if providentially awaiting them. Even some of the Hohokam canals were intact, needing only to be cleaned out by the newcomers. But the river had its own harsh logic. The territorial "lifestyle," as related by my grandmother, was unbelievably primitive, even at the end of the 19th century -- always dependent on the river's tricks. Phoenix might never have risen from the ashes.