The many prehistoric canals in the Salt-Gila River basin covered hundreds of miles and could have watered several hundred thousand acres if they were all operational at the same time.
These early twentieth-century maps show several clusters of canals, known as canal systems, that existed prehistorically along the Salt River. The long presence of major population centers served by multiple canals indicates that numerous canals were in use at any given time.
Canals along the middle Gila River were not as long as those along the Salt River to the north and for the most part do not seem to have been organized into extensive canal systems. Still, according to archaeologist Michael Woodson, they could have supported between 30,000 and 50,000 people at their height.
At Park of the Canals in Mesa, Arizona, you can see a long segment of one Hohokam main canal, as well as the remains of other smaller ones. Once or twice a year, Pueblo Grande Museum in Phoenix offers a walking tour of the Park of Four Waters, where a cluster of Hohokam canals drew water from the Salt River. Many of the canals that headed in this area continued for miles, forming the largest canal system on the north side of the river.
The canals made the desert's long growing season surprisingly effective, with two crops of corn possible, along with drought-resistant squash and various types of beans. The Hohokam also grew cotton, which probably required frequent irrigation. Remnants of clothing suggest that the cotton shirts, sashes, and other garments had patterns woven into the cloth.
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