Covering Papago Park will require far more than my 700ish word limit, so I will cover high points in short form. This photo is from the inside of Hole in the Rock, a geological formation, which is a hole through the butte. Ancient peoples tracked sun movements inside this open air room, so its history begins long, long ago.

The north side has an amphitheater, where Easter sunrise services were held. The western side of the park held a POW camp during WWII, housing Germans and Italians. 25 POW’s escaped, were recaptured or turned themselves in; the Arizona desert was too much. Of the 500 camps in the US, during WWII, this was the largest POW escape.

At the time of this postcard, the park contained fish hatcheries. Later, the Phoenix Zoo, Desert Botanical Gardens, golf course, trails, baseball fields, lakes and picnic areas were added. A military museum, the Department of Emergency and Military Affairs, The Hall of Flame (a fire equipment and history museum) and a Military Museum also live in the park.

Governor Hunt, who designated this area as a park is buried here in his tomb, which is a small replica of an Egyptian Pyramid.

The writer says: “Hello: This is where C and I go riding. We climbed up to this hole yesterday on Tepper! The scene is more grown up and picnic tables around new. The water is used as a game refuge and fish hatchery. Many ducks, etc. Set aside by Gov. Hunt whose tomb is on another hill in the park. Beautiful place to ride. Letter still follows! Love ECR”

The postcard itself says: “Papago park is an area of unspoiled desert displaying a wide variety of cactus and desert growth. Rough red rock, butte-like hills create a vivid scar in this park. Deeply eroded these rocks form themselves into fantastic shapes and figures – the most famous of which is ‘Hole in the Rock.’”

My experience with the park – Easter Sunday Service – I am certain my mom attended more than one Easter Service here. I am certain I did not – too early for me. I worked at the Phoenix Zoo two summers in high school (that was an adventure in alligators, spider monkeys, komodo dragons, a Bengal tiger and other things that would never be allowed for a high school student today!)  More about that in a later post. My dad says that one or two of our buildings at the Stagecoach Inn were former officer’s quarters from the earlier military base that was at Papago Park. I, like the writer of the card frequently rode horses in this park. It was my favorite place to ride – even when I had access to well trained Arabians…I still loved the openness of Papago. I never hiked it, I have never been to the Desert Botanical Gardens. That’s always on my list, but somehow, I run out of time. A good friend’s favorite golf course is in the park. I visited the Hall of Flame, looking for information on another postcard.

I think of this as representative of Phoenix through time in so many ways. It is like a giant shopping center of human experience, starting with the Hohokam tracking the sun and the moon, through time and all of these different people and experiences to culminate in a sports culture, flora and fauna exhibition. So much variety, unplanned, messy, not culturally related, except that it all came together in one place, accumulating over time.

And now I recall my last experience with Papago Park. I had an art class in high school and learned how to paint moonlight on rock and cactus. My painting was of the Papago Buttes. I loved that I learned how to do that. Isn’t that funny – all these decades later, that I remember that little painting of those buttes and how I used a light-yellow paint to limn the edges of rock and cactus in quiet moonlight? Perhaps our writer also found moonlight on the buttes a lovely sight. Perhaps our writer included that in the letter that still followed.

Until next time, and visits to the zoo, the gardens, and whatever other wonders are captured in a postcard of the era.


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Sherry Dewane is very much an Angeleno, living in Los Angeles, but her roots are firmly planted in rural Wisconsin. Years living in Montana and travels throughout the American West shape her worldview. Sherry’s imagination, love of the outdoors, Midwest work ethic and love of reading were nurtured on an iconic lake in the woods, where she enjoyed her early childhood. She spent the first 11 years of her life on English Lake, in rural Wisconsin, exploring woods, fields and the lake, endlessly walking, swimming, ice skating, water-skiing and enjoying the seasons, reading and writing.


  • Diana

    I’ve never even visited this area! Fascinating!

    • Sherry Dewane

      Hi Diana – that’s super interesting! Did you ever drive by? It is fairly central.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      See you soon. Sherry


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