There are many interesting places to see in Papago Park, just a short walk from the Magnuson Hotel Papago Inn. One of them is the Arizona Historical Society Museum. The museum is the principal museum of the Phoenix metropolitan area covering the changes that have made Arizona what it is today. The museum focuses on diverse topics of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries such as World War II’s effects on Arizona, the rise of desert cities, pop culture, sports, and the state’s geology. The museum is located on the southern edge of Papago Park among red sandstone cliffs and saguaro cacti. There are outdoor exhibits that incorporate the beautiful desert landscape.

One of the outdoor exhibits is a Salt River water project called The Green Line. It is a unique riparian preserve along the edge of Papago Park. On the other side of the museum, a patio made of red tiles forms a compass that identifies all the mountain ranges that surround Papago Park.

Inside I toured a fascinating exhibit called, “Routes – 100 years of transportation in Arizona” where the trails of Prehistoric people, native peoples, the Spanish and the US Army are overlaid on top of the rivers and highways of Arizona. For the most part it seemed like much of the early exploration missed the Salt River, Scottsdale and Papago Park.

Another exhibit was, “Views from the Home Front – WWII comes to Arizona.” This exhibit highlights the large German POW camp at Papago Park in World War II. It was here that twenty-five of the POW’s escaped through a tunnel, under the fence and into the desert. The men were all re-captured within a few weeks. It was said that one thirsty and hungry German, wandering the desert, turned himself in when he saw what was on the camp’s Christmas menu.

As an amateur historian I appreciate the easy accessibility of the museum's archives. There are manuscripts, photographs, diaries, letters, oral histories, sound recordings, moving images, microfilm, maps, books, and digital files. The museum at Papago Park focuses on Maricopa County and Central Arizona history. I'm looking forward to using their research library in the future.

I enjoyed the Phoenix Phabulous History Mural Collection. They are iconic indoor murals depicting the past, present and imagined future of Phoenix. Tthe collection of 16 murals portrays nine distinct Phoenix time periods, each featuring important milestones of community life, like "Early Stewards of Phoenix" by Darrin Armijo-Wardle.

I chatted with local artist Damian Jim who painted a brightly colored mural depicting the ancient Hohokam canal system, which is still delivering water to Valley residents today.

It’s a pleasant walk south from the Magnuson Hotel Papago Inn along the quiet neighborhood streets to the Arizona Historical Museum, or you can also make the journey more adventurous by walking through the desert at Papago Park. Head west along E. McDowell for half a dozen blocks until you reach the Arizona Cross Cut Canal trail. Turn south and walk along the paved trail for one and a third miles until the trail slopes downhill, makes a sharp bend left, and the canal travels above your head in an aqueduct. 

Here the paved trail crosses East Marigold Lane. On the other side of the lane, walk uphill and head southwest for half a mile along a crude trail through the desert landscape of Papago Park to the Arizona Historical Museum. Bring some water so you don’t end up thirsty like those escaped German POWs!

Story and Photos by Bret Wirta