Did You Know: How Dreamy Draw In Phoenix Got Its Name

By Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez
Published: Saturday, October 12, 2013 - 7:21pm
Updated: Monday, April 27, 2020 - 1:31pm

One of the most scenic spots in the city is the Phoenix Mountain Preserve that runs up along State Route 51.The area is also known as the Dreamy Draw. You might think the name comes from its majestic views, but you’d be wrong. 

Dreamy Draw Park sits off Northern Avenue and State Route 51. It’s a desert landscape with sprawling hills, steep mountains and secluded valleys.  Did you know Dreamy Draw was a name residents coined in the early 20th century to describe the area where miners spent long and arduous day?

“It was said that the miners in this area would leave and be in a dreamy state so they were coming back from the Dreamy Draw," said John Southard, a Phoenix-area historian.

That’s because of what the miners were looking for. Southard said miners here began digging for copper in 1916. But instead, discovered a significant amount of cinnabar. That’s a mineral that’s processed down to extract mercury — which was a commodity at a time when a world war was raging. 

“In fact, mercury is a neurotoxin and working with mercury can have some very interesting effects on people. If you were to be in a mine shaft or working with materials, processing it, things like that, it is entirely likely that it could have an impact on your health and state of mind," Southard said.

Southard said mining around what’s now a modern day freeway spanned from Piestewa Peak up to Shea Boulevard.

“The Rico Wash, also known as the Mercury Wash, that also flows kind of perpendicular to State Route 51, was actually where some of the earliest cinnabar discoveries were made and that’s where some of the richest deposits were," said Southard.

Despite its value at the time, this area produced fewer than a hundred 76-pound flasks of mercury. Mining operations shut down in the 1940s. By the late 1980s, the government decided to build a highway. When the area was surveyed for construction, mining equipment was found and removed.

On 28th Street, south of Shea is a school. It’s called, well what else, Mercury Mine Elementary School. Its softball field sits above a filled-in mercury mine.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been modified to reflect that Mercury Mine Elementary School is on 28th Street.

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