National Geographic : 1950 Jul
You Can't Miss America by Bus racing park. The child wanted to know what it was, and was told. "Oh," she exclaimed, "is that where all the buses race?" Phoenix, financial and shopping center of Arizona, glistened in the blazing sun. I cooled off in a hotel lobby where cattlemen, booted and spurred and thoroughly hatted, mingled with dapper traveling salesmen; where lettuce farmers talked irrigation with citrus growers. "You've heard a lot about irrigation in this country," remarked a friend taking me around the city, "but did you know that Phoenix is the air-conditioning capital of the world?" Be it ever so humble or dashingly lavish, nearly every home we saw had an air-cooling contraption. Air conditioning obviously makes a differ ence to the city's population; but irrigation really explains its increase from 5,500 in 1900 to about 100,000 today. In short, Phoenix grew up on water. To realize this, drive as we did through acres of citrus groves, fields of vegetables, date and dairy farms, grain and alfalfa (page 6). Here the white man's miracle, wrought by water, merely repeated what Indians in the Salt River Valley had done a dozen centuries earlier. At Pueblo Grande, Indian site out side Phoenix, city archeologist Odd S. Halseth showed me an irrigation canal engineered by primitive red men. The Hohokam quit the region 400 years before American pioneers arrived in the 1860's. Their abandoned ditches and village ruins tell of a prehistoric irrigation culture. Speeding west, the bus crossed the Colorado River at Yuma and entered California. Eve ning stretched shadows across the American Sahara. In shifting dunes obsolete telephone poles sank to their crosstrees. I saw remains of a plank road used before the days of well-maintained highways. How horses ever dragged the first wagons over the trackless waste I couldn't imagine.* To find a generous flow of water in this desert seemed incongruous as rain in Phoenix. Men shackled the Colorado River and let loose the All American Canal, which makes Imperial Valley so lush. With irrigation of Imperial Valey, El Centro became chief shipping center for the agricultural produce. It happened in the life time of present residents; the All American Canal didn't go to work until 1940. El Centroans are proud of their city. They keep it clean, put up signs at principal inter sections warning autos to stop for pedestrians, place cards in cafe windows barring dogs, cats, and parrots, build arcades along shopping streets to ward off the glaring hot sun, and name their leading hotel for their favorite heroine, Harold Bell Wright's Barbara Worth. From El Centro I traveled north through the Imperial Valley. The bus skirted the Salton Sea, an inland body of blue water 241 feet below sea level and saltier than an ocean. Farther north we penetrated the date-grow ing Coachella Valley. Cool-looking groves, neatly planted, continued for miles. Near Indio a woman across the aisle presented me with a pound package of this luscious fruit. Immigrant Oranges Founded an Empire Getting off at the Riverside depot, I counted my baggage as usual. For the first time some thing was missing; my tripod had gone with the bus to Los Angeles. "Don't worry about it," the dispatcher said. "It'll be here tomorrow." And it was. I stayed at the Mission Inn. While its architecture and imported objects made the combined hotel and art galleries famous (oppo site page), imported orange trees distinguished Riverside. Young navels from Brazil were introduced in 1873; with these early plantings the region founded a citrus empire. Riverside cradled the culture of Washington navel oranges in the United States and gave California its major fruit crop. Three years later California planted its first Valencia orange trees; they came from Eng lish nurseries which raised this type of Span ish origin. Buses flow through Riverside like water in its irrigation canals. Miss one and you must hurry to catch the next. My reluctance to leave this city of trees and friendly people made me miss several. Neither heat nor humidity could thin the downtown crowds of Los Angeles. A news paper headlined, "92 DEGREES-BABY, IT'S HOT OUTSIDE"; but that didn't bother shopping hordes I found as far out as Farmers Market (page 14). Tourists filled hotels and restaurants, jammed streetcars and buses. Even at Per shing Square with all its benches I saw signs reserving seats for women and children; and standing audiences packed the central fountain area to hear hours of public haranguing. Once out of Los Angeles, the bus climbed high into the Tehachapi Mountains. U. S. 99 led us over Tejon Pass and began the long descent of the Grapevine grade. A gap re * See "The West Through Boston Eyes," by Stew art Anderson, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, June, 1949.