Created as part of a collection of Arizona river overview documents titled "River of the Month Series, Celebrating Arizona’s Rivers". These reports were prepared and supported by Environmental Defense Fund, Sonoran Institute, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, Western Resource Advocates, and University of Arizona Water Resources Center.
Perhaps more than any other Arizona river, the Santa Cruz River transcends boundaries. It crosses the international border with Mexico twice, and traverses landscapes ranging from wild cienegas (marshes) to the urban downtown of Arizona’s second-largest city. It flows above and below ground, crossing the boundary of the Earth’s surface in response to changing conditions. And although it is highly imperiled, the preservation of the river’s remaining resources has motivated people with diverse priorities to transcend their differences in order to protect and restore the Santa Cruz.
The Santa Cruz has supported people in southern Arizona and northern Mexico since 11,000 B.C., when Paleoindian peoples traveled the Santa Cruz Valley hunting for mammoths. From this early culture through the present day, travelers and settlers including indigenous peoples, Spanish missionaries, Mexican farmers, and the burgeoning populations of contemporary cities have been drawn to the lush banks of the Santa Cruz.