The Coast News Group
Many miles of the Arizona Canal are kept landscape-free to prevent trees from “drinking” the water and to make maintenance easy, but in the Scottsdale Waterfront area, trees and plants create a park-like environment. A type of carp native to China keeps the canals clean by eating about three-quarters of its weight each day in weeds and algae. Photo by E’Louise Ondash
ColumnsHit the Road

Hit the Road: Arizona’s Canal Convergence celebrates melding of art, water, light

It’s a balmy November night in Scottsdale’s Waterfront neighborhood. Several thousand people line the sidewalks and bridges that make up the pathways paralleling and traversing the Arizona Canal, which gives this portion of the city its name. Some people are on foot, some on bicycles, a few are stationed in nearby trees, and canal-side restaurants and pop-up beer gardens are full.

Visitors and locals alike are waiting for the signature event at this year’s Canal Convergence (, an annual celebration of the melding of art, water and light. The 2019 theme is “The Story of Water,” and large-scale art installations — pulsating, flashing and flickering – are the big draw. 

Included in the dozen-plus pieces of art — some bigger-than-life — is Scottsdale’s version of the Loch Ness Monster. The 200-foot, segmented metal Water Serpent appears to be partially submerged in the canal. On the stroke of 8 p.m., huge tongues of searing, yellow flames shoot from the segments, all choreographed to music that reverberates for blocks. The flames light up the water, spectators and buildings, and create a sparkly effect on the serpent’s body. All of this is reflected in the canal waters and glass surfaces of adjacent buildings.

The Water Serpent is artist Kristina Ricci’s nod to Arizona’s history and landscape, which she discovered includes an archeological site in the nearby Hohokam Pima National Monument called Snaketown (not open to the public). The ancient village had an extensive canal system built by residents who inhabited the Valley of the Sun from about 300 A.D. to 120 A.D.

Canals continue to be the lifeblood for those who reside in the Arizona desert, and Canal Convergence is a celebratory reminder that water is crucial to the existence of everything in Scottsdale and surrounding communities.

There are nine canals (180 miles) that crisscross the Phoenix Metro area; it’s the Arizona Canal branch that slices through Scottsdale. Nearly 36 miles of this canal are hikeable/bikeable. The canal not only carries water for homes and commerce, but also is a major source of leisure and entertainment.

Before the opening show of the Convergence, we did what many visitors and locals do any and every day — took a long walk along the sidewalk that parallels the canal. We had plenty of company — other walkers, dogs, cyclists, riders on scooters and rollerbladers. Landscaping — trees, plants, hardscape and futuristic shade structures — provide this Scottsdale Waterfront area with a clean, futuristic, park-like vibe. Five shopping malls nearby are there for those who want to do that. 

We were headquartered at the historic Hotel Valley Ho (, a 10-minute walk from the waterfront. (Hooray for leaving the car parked.) Built in 1956, the Valley Ho was a favorite of the old-Hollywood elite — Bing Crosby, Tony Curtis, Zsa Zsa Gabor — and was recently restored to its former midcentury-modern splendor. The rooms and bathrooms, punctuated with the 1950s bright-orange-and-turquoise palette, are spacious with a luxurious feel. The hotel’s indoor/outdoor ZuZu restaurant and lounge offer cuisine and drinks with a focus on fresh and the chef is glad to tailor entrees to meet special dietary needs. A must-try: the saucy, sweet Mango Tango cocktail.

Scottsdale only gets better from here on out. Visit