The Camel’s Back Is Older Than the Grand Canyon
A hike up Camelback is a journey through time. The sedimentary rock near the camel’s head is only 25 million years old, but the Precambrian granite near the top is 1.5 billion years old. The top is older than the layers at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and the camel’s head is younger than the Canyon rim.
The Race to Build the Arizona Canal
100,000 acres near Camelback were opened for settlement by the construction of the Arizona Canal. In 1883, 450 men and 225 mule teams were employed to dig the canal, which had to reach a milestone by a specified date and time in 1885 or lose the contract. Despite sabotage, the deadline was met, but by only 2 hours!
The Biodiversity of Camelback
Camelback has micro-climates that enable it to provide a home to more than 100 species of plants and a variety of wildlife. It is especially popular with birders, as birds of prey soar in the wind currents and the flowering plants are teeming with hummingbirds. Even moss and lichen spring to life and color after a rain.
Barry Goldwater’s Commentary about Camelback
In May 1965, between his Presidential campaign and his election to the Senate, as a private citizen Barry Goldwater said: “Saving that mountain has become the most important goal of my life. If it’s the last thing we do, we’re going to preserve Camelback.”
One year before he passed away in 1998, Barry Goldwater wrote the following in the Forward to the book, Camelback; Sacred Mountain of Phoenix, by civic leader Gary Driggs.
“I’ve spent a good part of my adult life looking at Camelback Mountain. I built my home on a small hill overlooking the north side of Echo Canyon and the Head of Camelback Mountain. Every day I watch the changing moods of Camelback. The colors change as the sun moves across the sky. The red rocks of Camelback remind me of the rocks on the Colorado Plateau, which have been such an important part of my life.
I had a lot of wonderful experiences in both business and civic life. It was both an honor and pleasure to serve in the U.S. Senate and run for the presidency, but one of the things I am most proud of is the work Maggie Kober and I did to help preserve the top of Camelback for a city park. Of course, that effort was only made possible through the efforts of thousands of schoolchildren, volunteers, civic leaders and others who worked to gather both the money and public support.
I’ve visited and photographed every part of Arizona. My favorite place has been the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon. The experiences I had running the river and hiking the canyon rank at the top of lots of memorable outdoor experiences. But after the Colorado and its canyons I rank the beauty of Camelback right up there with the best spots in Arizona.”
Lady Bird Johnson Hiked Camelback in High Heels
At a black tie gala in Phoenix in May 1968 to celebrate the success of the Camelback preservation effort and the federal government’s help in funding the purchase of the top of Camelback, Lady Bird Johnson said she wanted to experience herself the enjoyment of Camelback.
The civic leaders took her directly to Camelback, where she hiked several hundred yards up the trail in her high heels, with the news media recording the scene. (Please do not try this yourself. Always wear proper footwear and bring ample water when hiking Camelback.)
Camelback Is the Oldest Place of Worship in the Valley
The Smithsonian Institution certified in 1911 that samples found at the large ceremonial cave on the north side of Camelback, near the Echo Canyon trailhead, were “offerings to the gods.” An ASU archeology class excavated the ceremonial cave in 1959.
Camelback Was Almost the “Hollywood Bowl” of Phoenix
In the 1920’s there was a successful concert series at the natural amphitheater of Echo Canyon, sometimes attended by audiences of 2,000 people. The Echo Canyon Bowl Association was formed, in part by local attorney and landowner Russ Tatum, to create a concert venue that could accommodate 10,000 guests in what was hoped to become the “Hollywood Bowl of Phoenix.” It attracted the support of the architect of the Hollywood Bowl, but the effort fell victim to the depression of the 1930’s.
The Connection between a Murder Trial, Camelback Resort Development and the Fiesta Bowl
In 1932, Jack Stewart, a 32-year old newspaper reporter for the Fargo Forum came to Phoenix from North Dakota to cover the sensational trial of Winnie Ruth Judd, the so-called Trunk Murderess. Stewart stayed in the Valley, working at the San Marcos Hotel in Chandler and the Wigwam Inn in Litchfield Park. He then had the vision to build a resort in what would become Paradise Valley, between Camelback and Mummy Mountains.
He convinced John C. Lincoln to mortgage 420 acres that Lincoln owned and invest another $200,000 to build the Camelback Inn. At the time there was no water, electricity or telephone service to the area, reached by a dusty dirt road. Adobe bricks to build the resort were made on-site.
The success of the Camelback Inn after it opened in 1936 attracted other nearby resort developments, and the Camelback Inn was acquired by and became the first resort owned by the Marriott Corporation in 1967. (The Camelback Inn had also served as the headquarters for Barry Goldwater’s 1964 Presidential Campaign.)
Jack Stewart later was instrumental in bringing Major League Baseball Spring Training to the Valley, and he chaired the committee to found the Fiesta Bowl in 1969. He also provided free winter vacations at the Camelback Inn for servicemen returning from Vietnam.
The Effort to Save Camelback in the 1960’s
In 1956 the Maricopa County Planning Commission and in 1957 the Arizona Legislature went on record to oppose development on Camelback above 1,600 feet in elevation, but action to prohibit development of privately owned land on Camelback did not occur. Plans developed for blasting homes all over the head of Camelback and to build a tramway for a restaurant on top.
In the mid-1960s, Barry Goldwater and other civic leaders led an effort to save the higher elevations of Camelback from development. They raised hundreds of thousands of dollars through 1,350 donations ranging from 47 cents to $25,000. They sought the assistance of the federal government, which added funds to purchase the higher reaches of Camelback, but some important parcels still remain in private hands.