View of Tucson c. 1904 from Sentinel Peak, with the Santa Cruz River flowing in the foreground. Photographer unknown.
When I lived in Tucson a few years back, I often wondered why a city even existed there. Modern Tucson is completely dry, save a few artificial ponds propped up for the golfing set. The few desert washes that pass through town are bare sand most of the time, filling only briefly during the heaviest monsoon rains. It's not the sort of place any sane person would think to plant a city.
Yet, historical photographs of the area tell the true story. Photographic archives are a tremendous resource for anyone with an interest in how landscapes change. Old Tucson, it turns out, was founded on the banks of the permanently flowing Santa Cruz river, nestled in the shade of cottonwood trees. Only with development was the river pumped into a memory.
Public domain photograph, 2011. Credit: John Diebolt
The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)
Alex Wild is Curator of Entomology at the University of Texas at Austin, where he studies the evolutionary history of ants. In 2003 he founded a photography business as an aesthetic complement to his scientific work, and his natural history photographs appear in numerous museums, books and media outlets.