Prehistoric Hanging Canals of the Safford Basin
By Don Lancaster and Synergetics
The Gila Valley has a rich prehistory...
Especially during the Late Classic period around 1350 CE.
Neely and others.
Population likely as high as today. Some ties to
Hohokam, Mimbres, Salado, Sinagua and Anasazi cultures.
Gila River lowland canals as extensive as
today and the basis for modern irrigation.
Thousands of world class agriculture
possibly used for Agave crops...
Lesser known are the "hanging" canals...
Literally "hung" on steep sided mesa edges. As high as 90 feet above base terrain! Eight or more total at least 18 miles. Create the illusion of "water flowing uphill". May include above ground aquaducts, route
switching, and flood breakaways.
Used mostly for long range water delivery. Nearly totally exploit Mt Graham streams. Typically a yard wide by a foot deep.
Three terms you need to know...
BAJADA -- A coalescing alluvial fan.
The latest geological period. MESA -- A remnant Quaternary bajada.
Some properties of local southern mesas...
Typically narrow and long. Steep sided. Gently sloped. Limited rainfall. Largely infertile. Pretty much water impermeable. Not too useful to pioneers or present. Easily conveys water long distances.
The hanging canals might be named...
Ledford Marijilda Rincon Deadman Robinson Allen Jernigan Lefthand
Ledford Hanging Canal...
Southernmost of the known hanging canals. Sources near Jacobson Canyon dam. Rather difficult to access and explore. Switches between several drainages. Sees current use for cattle tanks. About three miles total extent. Associated with prehistoric fields. Parasitic vegetation makes reach obvious
when viewed from highway US 191.
Marijilda Hanging Canal...
Earliest to be studied and researched. Runs from Marijilda Creek to fields found
in the Lebanon area.
Initial reach rebuilt by historic pioneers
and sees active irrigation use to this day.
Easiest access of the known hanging canals.
but western 4WD track is extremely rough.
Includes impressive above ground aquaduct. Hangs on the western mesa face. Apparent switching to several destinations. Elaborate French Drains going off mesa.
Rincon Hanging Canal...
Related to the Marijilda hanging canal. Makes a distinct "U" turn and actually heads
back UP canyon.
Portions are single walled and quite wide. Directly associated with grids, mulch rings,
fields, and field houses.
A section has been run over by the Safford
water tank project.
Eventually drops off mesa to serve more
Contours obvious on satellite images...
Deadman Hanging Canal...
Sources from Deadman creek and delivers
to Porter Springs and Deadman tanks.
Initial hanging portion believed overlain
by historic and modern pipeline.
Prehistoric portion flows to this day. Consistently routes along HIGHEST portion
of Deadman Mesa.
Possible elaborate three way switching at
the narrowest point of mesa.
Could approach five miles in length if the
presumed extensions are verified.
Robinson Hanging Canal...
Rebuilt by historic pioneer to serve
cattle tanks in the Daley Estates area.
Three-way switching in Frey creek selects
original route, Sheep Tank, or mesa top.
Short section spectacularly failed by falling
off the mesa edge.
Prehistoric fields overlain by sheet flooding. Very strong "water flows uphill" illusion. Mesa top used for water transport only. Accessible only by ill defined cattle trail.
Allen Hanging Canal...
Nearly SEVEN MILES long! Source believed Spring Canyon. May
go as far as Central bottomlands.
Apparently overlain by
CCC Hawk Hollow
tank, Allen Dam, and West Layton Road.
Two distinct architectural styles. Deepest long known cut of seven feet. Portions obscured by sheet flooding. Comes within 800 feet of Jernigan Canal,
but relationship remains uncertain.
Many questions remain unanswered.
Jernigan Hanging Canal...
Part of a well studied and reported site. "U" shaped canal a quarter mile in length. A "local" that routed water between fields. Maximum hanging height "only" twenty feet. One fairly impressive cut of three foot depth. Well defined exit French Drain area. Original water source not yet clear. Possibly
obscured by sheet flooding.
Lefthand Hanging Canal...
Extensively studied and reported by
Directly associated with plant nursery areas. Elaborate switching and control structures. Short "local" and direct agricultural uses. No "hanging" evidence but similarities to the
other area prehistoric canals are remarkable.
Small gates divert controlled water amounts. Both earthern and rock bordered examples
present. Possible instances of clay lining.
Other possibilities yet unexplored...
Veech Canyon in the "P" Ranch area. A few
rumors of historic and prehistoric canals.
Ash Creek. Some prehistory may lie beneath
the Cluff Ranch Wildlife area.
The Mud Springs bajada is one of the largest
on Mount Graham. Possible Ash Creek feed.
Shingle Mill Canyon is largely unverified.
Home of the historic Tramway .
Carter and Nuttal canyons could possibly
provide western extensions.
Unchecked but known prehistoric areas near
junction of Marijilda and Stockman washes.
Why the obsession with mesa hanging?
Slope is INDEPENDENT of terrain! Minimum cuts and fills. One canal side is often "free". Superbly energy and effort efficient. Easy repairs from flood damage. Mesa top slopes often optimum. Not much other use for mesa tops. Conveys water long distances.
Arguments the canals are prehistoric...
Archaeologists say so. Run over by newer roads, tanks, fences,
and even dams. Without accomodation.
Consistent "desert varnish" patina. Lack of any apparent use of pioneer tools. Prehistoric population very much higher. Easier to "dig out an old ditch". Far more attuned to prehistoric needs. Lack of characteristic
Large cacti growing midstream.
Hanging canals ARE endangered...
There are typically zero to very few canal artifacts, so pothunting issues are by no means severe. BUT...
An utter lack of public awareness clearly
causes damage through neglect.
Water projects by the Town of Safford totally
trashed a number of canal crossings, mulch rings, grids, and even a CCC dam. All these could have been cheaply avoided.
realignment of US70 to the
south may threaten many of the canals.
The state lands bureaucracy is exceptionally
hostile to archaeological research.
What needs done now...
Map and catalog all southern features.
Videotape all hanging canal routes. Resolve the Allen Canal enigmas. Find a credible Jernigan canal source. Involve students and interested others. Explore other candidate water sources. Publish both traditionally and
Make upcoming threats aware of the issues. Use "field mice" to thoroughly explore. Scam a
This has been an excerpt of...
http://www.tinaja.com/glib/hangcan1.pdf Presented by Don Lancaster and Synergetics, 3860 West First Street, Box 809, Thatcher, Arizona, 85552. (928) 428-4073. mailto:email@example.com More info on Gila Valley prehistory can be found at http://www.tinaja.com/glib/neely1.pdf
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