Arizona Falls – Phoenix, Arizona - Atlas Obscura

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Arizona Falls

A historic hydroelectric power plant serves as the unusual backdrop for a public park. 

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Located in northeastern Phoenix, on the edge of Scottsdale, this unusual attraction highlights a waterfall created in 1883 during the construction of the Arizona Canal. When contractor William J. Murphy and his team came upon a natural 20-foot drop, they decided to incorporate the drop into a new waterfall. Locals started coming to the spot for picnics and recreation, enjoying the cool mist of the waterfall and the area’s shady trees.

In 1902, Phoenix’s first hydroelectric power plant was built at the site and was then rebuilt and updated in 1911. The power plant encased the falls and a dance floor was built on the plant’s roof. The plant was shut down in 1950 when necessary repairs and maintenance were deemed too expensive for the plant to continue operation.

Over the ensuing years, interest in the site waxed and waned until the city of Phoenix and the water and power organization Salt River Project (SRP) joined forces to create a new hydroelectric plant and public recreational park featuring art installations and educational materials. The current park opened in 2003. Mags Harries, a sculptor, and her husband Lajos Heder, an architect, designed the falls alongside landscape architect Steve Martino.The park features overlooks and a concrete deck where visitors can sit and feel the waterfall’s spray. At the park, there’s a boulder from each of the dam sites SRP manages, gears from the original powerhouse, and thematic poetry by Alberto Rios, Arizona’s first poet laureate, that’s been sandblasted into the concrete. Signs throughout the park explain the history of the site, hydroelectric power, and how the white amur fish helps clear the water of weeds and algae.

Know Before You Go

Arizona Falls shares a parking lot with G.R. Herberger Park. There are also canal-side trails for walking, running, and bike riding near the falls.

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