The Salt River used to flow through the Valley every day of the year. Should I repeat that? The Salt River was a river that flowed through the desert year-round. And after it merged into the Gila, it flowed all the way to the Colorado River near present-day Yuma.

Without the Salt River, we wouldn’t be here

The Salt River near Mesa is often pretty dry nowadays. (Source: Rio Salado Project)

The dry channel that seems like a deep scar through the middle of Phoenix brought life to the area beginning with the early Native Americans. The Salt (Rio Salado as the Spanish called it) starts where the Black River and the White River come together in eastern Arizona. When it flowed, 200 miles later it merged into the Gila in the southwest Valley.

Roosevelt Dam began to put an end to the wild Salt River, its constant flow and its penchant for flooding. A thriving civilization has grown here in Arizona because the waters were tamed. But I would have loved to have been here to see it for real.

In the 1800s, you might cross the river when it was low on your carriage. Other times, you’d have to use Lee’s Ferry. There was a swimming hole near Tempe Butte where people flocked in the summer.

You might go fishing for what were called “Desert Salmon.” They grew to 6 feet long and weighed up to 80 pounds and could feed a family for a week. We now know the Desert Salmon were Colorado Pikeminnows, the largest minnow on the planet. The white meat, some of the old reports say, was very tasty. Yeah, I would have liked to have seen all that.

Without the Salt River, we wouldn’t be here

Horse and buggy crosses the Salt River around 1870. (Source: Tempe Historical Society)

The Salt River Project Today

The Salt River is 200 miles long and is fed by streams that start along the Mogollon Rim.  It flows into Roosevelt, Apache, Canyon and Sagauro Lakes, all of which were created by the Salt River Project's dams. Quite a few lakes in Arizona were created by dams over the last 120 years. 

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