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Mesa, Arizona

Centuries passed and the canals dried and were covered by the desert's moving sands before the Pache and Pima tribes took claim to the region. Early pioneer explorers and settlement groups found the area too hostile to stay long, and they moved on to other places. Then in 1878 the Mesa Company, a settlement group of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints, arrived and uncovered the Hohokam canals and brought irrigation waters back to the valley and it once again flourished. The church's settlement town template called for large square blocks that were divided into eight rectangular 11/4 acre parcels to be used as family farms. The 132-foot wide streets enabled ox-drawn wagons to turn around without having to drive to the edge of town to reverse their direction. Within five years of the first arrival there were 300 residents, and the City of Mesa was officially incorporated. The next 30 years saw growth and dramatic change in the city. It outgrew its gardens, and farmlands were developed beyond the city limits. African American, Mexican, Japanese and Chinese families settled here to farm and bring new trades to the community. The canals allowed enough water flow to operate an electric power plant that has been city operated since 1917. Power and water are precious commodities in this region, and the revenue the plant brought to the city purse has paid for many quality public structures and services that are the framework of what is now Arizona's third argest city. Mesa has an active year-round business and residential community and is also a popular destination for winter vacationers. The area is abundant with activities and interesting places to visit, all adding to its appeal. Here are some of the popular sites and activities visitors enjoy.

Mesa Southwest Museum.

This is one of the state's premier museums, and it has the largest dinosaur exhibit west of the Mississippi. Among the exhibit features are the 50-foot-high indoor waterfall and life-size, animated dinosaurs including a saber-tooth cat and a Columbian Mammoth. Other highlights include the recreated petrified forest with a Cretaceous aquarium,the Arizona Highways photography collection, a Hohokam Indian dwelling and a simulated Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine. Visiting and changing exhibits are introduced every quarter.Contact: 80-644-2230, www.mesasouthwestmuseum.com.

Arizona Temple Visitor Center.

The Arizona Temple ground is an area landmark that offers beautifully manicured gardens. The Visitor Center has displays about the LDS church, and two annual events are available to the public at no charge. The spectacular December holiday lights display has over 500,000 sparkling globes decorating the gardens. The Easter Pageant is a musical drama presentation having over 400 cast members and elaborate staging. Contact: 480-964-7164, www.easterpageant.org.

Champlin Fighter Aircraft Collection-Museum of Flight.

This museum houses one of the largest private collections of flyable vintage fighter aircraft. Displays catalog the evolution of this type of airplane from World War II through Vietnam. Contact: 480-924-1940, www.champlinfighter.com.

Park of the Canals.

This 30-acre park is built around a section of the ancient Hohokam Indian canal systems. It features an extensive desert botanical garden with vegetation from the four desert regions.A highlight is the display of 25 different varieties of prickly pear cacti.

Mesa Arts Center-Mesa Contemporary Arts.

This organization hosts eight free contemporary art exhibits per year. It also offers year-round educational workshops, lectures and demonstrations in visual and performing arts. Contact: 408-644-3235.

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