Today's Papago Park is full of delights and history, from the Desert Botanical Garden to the Phoenix Zoo, Hole-in-the-Rock, hiking, baseball, and Hunt's Tomb. As the official website says, "Its massive, otherworldly sandstone buttes set Papago Park apart, even in a city and state filled with world-class natural attractions."
But Papago Park almost didn't happen.
For those of you who don't venture south of Bell, north of "south Chandler," or are out-of-town readers, I'm writing about land that sits in east Phoenix and north Tempe. Technically, the boundaries run from McDowell on the north to Tempe Town Lake on the south, and 52nd Street and the Crosscut Canal/College Avenue to the west and east respectively. The park could have been much larger.
These magical uplands were five-and-a-half miles from the original Phoenix townsite when they were included in the reservation for the Pima and Maricopa tribes by President Rutherford B. Hayes. This was 1879, when the biggest concerns of the hardscrabble settlements of Phoenix and Tempe were reclaiming the Hohokam canals for agriculture. The National Park Service claims the Hohokam used Hole-in-the-Rock to mark the solstice. Early American settlers also appreciated the beauty of the ancient rock formations, including Carl Hayden (born in 1877) growing up across the river in Tempe.
Later in the 19th century, the reservation was contracted to the present-day borders of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. Some desultory mining activity took place around the buttes and they became more popular as exotic destinations for visitors. In 1914, a grown up Hayden, the new state's only representative in the U.S. House lobbied his friend, President Woodrow Wilson, to make the area a National Park. Wilson declined, but using the presidential powers of the Antiquities Act, declared it the Papago Saguaro National Monument. At the time, it stretched from the Salt River to Thomas Road.