All Souls Procession All Souls Procession

We remember together

Walking the Ghost River: 2017 Procession Route

Santa Cruz River in downtown Tucson, 1889

In the desert, one finds the way by tracing the aftermath of water.

~ Alison Deming, as quoted by Ken Lamberton

The All Souls Procession is moving this year. While the Finale site will remain the same, the starting point and route are changing.


This move is just the latest in a long history of changes. After all, the Procession at its heart is about living with change, with grief, with what has been lost and what has been gained.

The first Procession in 1990 was attended by only 25 people. Today close to 150,000 attend. What may have been lost in intimacy has been gained in impact.

From 1996-2016, we walked through the old commercial heart of the city. When the Procession began, downtown was a bit of a ghost town. Today it is alive. Bustling with activity. Full of restaurants and bars and other businesses.

In 2002, we moved from Saturday evening to Sunday to maintain the sacred heart of the Procession and clarify that while the Procession is a lot of fun, it is not primarily a party.

When streetcar development started in 2012, we moved the route from our long-time home on 4th Avenue to 6th Avenue, skirting downtown instead of processing along the heart of Congress. Once streetcar construction was completed, we found that the cost of shutting down the streetcar for the day was prohibitive for our tiny non-profit, so we maintained our 6th to Alameda to Congress route, shunted around the no-longer-ghostly city center.

Also in 2012, we outgrew our long-time Finale home at the Franklin Docks. We found a new home on the west side of the freeway near the Mercado San Agustin, thanks to the generosity of the Gadsden Company. But that home also brought challenges: it has required us to close the Congress Street freeway exits, substantially increasing our expenses.

The Procession has always evolved. For decades we have infused the city center with the energy and spirit of tens of thousands of people. Today, that center is thriving. But as it—and the Procession—has grown, we have been displaced from both our Finale location and our original Procession route.

We have been moving westward for years.

And now we are pulled by a spirit that is drawing us further westward, toward the liquid heart of Tucson, of Chuk-Son, of the ancient Hohokam villages: the Santa Cruz River.

When the River Ran

Today the Santa Cruz is dry and dusty most of the year, clogged with weeds and shopping carts. It is easy when we drive over it—or, rarely, walk beside it—to think it has always been this way. But the truth is something very different.

… the banks of the river, and the valley itself, are covered with poplars and willows, ash-trees and plantains, oaks and walnut trees … Some portions of the valley are of such grand, rich and simple beauty, as for instance Tumacacori and San Xavier del Bac, that they would be remarkable in any part of the world.”

~Julius Froebel, 1855, as quoted by Margaret Regan in “A River Runs Through It,” Tucson Weekly, 2001

Near San Xavier del Bac, the west side of the river was bordered by a massive mesquite bosque. Acres of mesquite trees, some of them sixty feet tall with trunks four feet in diameter.

The bottomlands on either side are covered, miles in extent, with a thick growth of giant mesquite trees, literally giants, for a person accustomed to the scrubby bush that grows everywhere in the desert regions of the southwest, can hardly believe that these fine trees, many of them sixty feet and over, really belong to the same species. This magnificent grove is included in the Papago Indian Reservation, which is the only reason for the trees surviving as long as they have, since elsewhere every mesquite tree large enough to be used as firewood has been ruthlessly cut down, to grow again as a straggly bush.

~Henry Swarth, ornithologist, 1902/1903, as quoted by Julio Luis Betancourt in “Tucson’s Santa Cruz River and the Arroyo Legacy,” 1990

The historical Santa Cruz River was a shallow stream with a wide floodplain, not a deep arroyo at all. The water surfaced in places, dipped underground in others, pooled in ciénegas, sustained beavers and turkeys and ducks and fish and clams and frogs and turtles and humans. Water levels ebbed and flowed seasonally. There were floods, and the waters spread shallowly across the land.

Even in the 1930s-50s, the river was radically different from what we know today.

The water was so clean, not polluted … it was beautiful. We used to have álamos (cottonwood trees), big, big, old trees, and we used to put ropes and tires on them and then we’d swing–BOOM!–right into the water.”

~Julia Soto, who grew up in Barrio Anita in the 1930s and 40s, A Path to the River, Memories of the Santa Cruz River and Barrio Anita

Playing in the Barrio Anita irrigation ditch, 1940

By the 1960s, the mesquite bosque was almost gone. The plummeting groundwater levels had pulled the water away from the trees’ roots, and they died of thirst. (Reference)

During the hundred years from Julius Froebel’s visit to the death of the mesquite bosques, Tucson’s population, irrigation, and water usage increased. The water tables dropped and the river began to change. The process was incremental—the kinds of changes that happen without us noticing. One year it’s a little drier, and then again the next. Or things are different than when we were kids, but maybe, we think, that’s only nostalgia. It’s easy to miss big changes that operate on a scale of decades.

But there was also a critical point, a pivotal moment when the shallow river began irrevocably to change into the arroyo we know today.

2017 marks the 130th anniversary of that moment:

In 1887 [Sam] Hughes saw a way to bring water from the Santa Cruz River to irrigate land north of town. He would crosscut a ditch into the river and divert subsurface water….on the east side of the river around St. Mary’s Road. [Floods] had an unexpected effect on Hughes’ ditch. The water started eroding the channel of the river from the [ditch] to the south. By the end of August the arroyo had crept…about 3 miles upstream. Within a year the river had cut a significant arroyo south to near Mission San Xavier del Bac. The big floods of 1890 worsened the situation. Today the river between Tucson and San Xavier is entrenched as much as 30 feet, in large part because of Hughes’ ditch.

~Tellman, Yarde, & Wallace, Arizona’s Changing Rivers: How People Have Affected the Rivers

Our Feet Trace Our River’s Scars
Santa Cruz River, 1954

Today the river between Tucson and San Xavier runs—when it runs—in a deep arroyo. Sam Hughes’s ditch bears a large part of the blame. Historians believe that he cut into the east side of the Santa Cruz between St. Mary’s and what is now the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind.

We will be walking on the west side of the Santa Cruz, paralleling the portion of the river that bore the brunt of Hughes’s cut.

We are the inheritors of consequences from the generations that came before us. And we are the inheritors of grief from those Ancestors who were good stewards of this land. We honor them by walking along the river.

In this age of climate change—of fires and hurricanes and drought and extinctions—we must remember and we must grieve. We cannot forget what has already been lost. We grieve this river that sustained this land and the people on it, the true heart of Tucson that has been devastated in just a few generations. We pour all our vast love and intention into the spirit of the water, to honor it, to offer it memory and life.

We invite you to join us.

Following the Ghost River

The new route is on the West side, paralleling the Santa Cruz River. It begins on Grande Avenue south of Speedway Boulevard., left on St. Mary’s Road, then right onto Bonita Avenue. It flows around the Garden of Gethsemane toward the Finale Site, situated between the river and the Mercado San Agustin. Pedestrians will be able to continue on the Riverwalk south of Congress Street and take the stairs at Cushing Street up to the Finale site. (Floats and others who do not want to tackle stairs will want to turn right at Congress Street to access the Finale site.)

For more on parking, check our parking tips page.

This route takes us through some of the oldest neighborhoods in the city—vital hearts, full of life. Menlo Park has been the home of the Finale Ceremony since 2012, and we have helped with the Día de San Juan Fiesta in this neighborhood for the past several years. This new route will bring us into Barrio Hollywood for the first time, as we process down the neighborhood’s main drag: Grande Avenue. We are working with the Barrio Hollywood Neighborhood Association, the neighborhood Cocio-Estrada American Legion Post 59, El Rio Neighborhood Center, and local businesses on some exciting new partnerships and projects. More details on those soon!

These neighborhoods are home to some extraordinary projects that are steeped in the deep history of Tucson and in a love for growing things—as well as for the water that sustains them. Mission Gardens in Menlo Park. Manzo Elementary’s Ecology Program in Barrio Hollywood. The brand new Barrio Hollywood Community Garden. Tucson Water’s proposed recharge project that will bring water back to the river at 29th Street, flowing north into Menlo Park and Barrio Hollywood. And of course, generations of families who have made their home along the river, memorializing their dead on its banks, visiting it to pray for rain on Día de San Juan, frightening children with tales of La Llorona stalking its depths, engaging with the river as it wove its way through their everyday lives.

The Santa Cruz has sustained people for 13,000 years, sustained agriculture for over 4,000 years. It is why Tucson is here after all. “We must reconnect with the river,” [Seth] says. “It’s not simply a flash flood basin running through our town that is empty 10 months a year….[W]e can’t ignore the river that runs right through our heart.”

~Ken Lamberton, quoting Seth Cothrun in “Revisiting the Dry River,” Edible Baja Arizona, July/August 2014

The Procession is powerful. It is full of spirit, full of love. We walk to remember. We walk for community. We walk where there is loss.

This is why we walk.


We encourage you to discover more about the history of the Santa Cruz—the gutted environmental heart of our city—and the efforts that are being made to preserve and restore the echoes of its spirit. We’ve collected a few links to get you started.

If you read nothing else, read these!

Overview by Margaret Regan, in the early days of the Rio Nuevo project: “A River Ran Through It,” Tucson Weekly, 2001

Overview by Ken Lamberton, who has written extensively about the river, with photography by All Souls Media Circle member, Jeff Smith: “Revisiting the Dry River,” Edible Baja Arizona, 2014

The latest report on the Santa Cruz’s flood risk and impacts that may have on recharge efforts, as reported on by Tony Davis: “Santa Cruz through downtown at risk for big flood, county says,” Arizona Daily Star, 2017


Barrio Anita, A Path to the River

Arizona’s Changing Rivers: How People Have Affected the Rivers

Historical Photographs

Looking Into the Westside: Untold Stories of the People, 1900-1997

Restoration Projects

From Ghost River to Living River

Friends of the Santa Cruz River

Replenishing a dried-up Arizona river a few drops at a time

Endangered fish reappear in the Santa Cruz River

Fish Thriving In Santa Cruz River Near Tucson

Santa Cruz river could flow again through downtown Tucson

Tucson Water hopes to have Santa Cruz River flowing within two years

21 thoughts on “Walking the Ghost River: 2017 Procession Route”

    Congrats to the team for the efforts of changing the route with the future in mind, based on the past. I can also assume it will help immensely to cut costs for the route expenses.
    One question specific to our situation with AIDS Ribbon Tucson– since our footprint when assembled as the iconic looped red ribbon is 30 feet wide and 70 feet long, how do you suggest we manage on the river walk portion of the route? With our size and spectator safety in mind, I don’t see how it will all fit on the small 2-lane paths. Thanks!
    Jeffrey Scott Brown
    Curator, AIDS Ribbon Tucson

      Melanie says:

      Hi Jeffrey — Any one who can’t walk the Riverwalk will turn right at Congress to access the Finale site. That’s definitely anyone with wheels–and anyone who is huge! That would be you. 🙂

    Connie DeVlieger says:

    I loved this arrival it has awesome history of the Santa Cruz river, what it lacks is the exact date of the all souls procession.

      Melanie says:

      Hi Connie! That’s what the rest of the website is for! 🙂 Check out our FAQs and calendar for lots of other details on events.

    Hello! We are writing from Homicide Survivors, Inc. We take place in this procession every year as it is an important and meaningful event for survivors. We are a little concerned about how the 10s of 1000s of people who typically attend will be able to find parking near the starting point. Do you have any other information or suggestions about parking? Is there any chance that there will be shuttles into the area? I know you indicated that info about parking is forthcoming, but for planning purposes it would be helpful to get info or ideas asap. Thanks so much!

      Melanie says:

      Hi Vanessa — Soon, I promise! In the meantime if you are eager to get started, you might want to look at maps of the area. There is actually quite a bit of parking near the Finale site. It might be worthwhile to shift your focus from “park at the gathering” to “park at the Finale.” ~Melanie

      I am working with a merchant who owns a private parking lot right at the start of the procession, and we are also planning to have a vendor area and a private face painting event near the start of the procession also which will start at 12pm, and there are many other areas to park, you can always just drive down there beforehand and check out the area then planningis less stressful, that’s what I do. We are hostin the vendor area for groups like your so please contact me if you want to have a table…here’s my public page..feel free to private message me…

    B says:

    Thank you for all the work you are putting into planning for this meaningful procession. I have not been in town the past 2 years, but do remember a few years ago the shock I had when the UA Marching band, in uniform, marched and played in a very upsetting manner, as if this event were the 4th of July celebration or something similar — I am hoping that this will not occur again……..?

      Melanie says:

      The Procession is open to all people and to all relationships toward death, grief, & memory. Some people are somber, some celebratory. There is a mixture of people from all sorts of backgrounds. That is a large part of the point of the Procession. Each of us is responsible for creating our own experience while sharing space with others who may have a very different approach than we do.

    Susan Tiss says:

    Thank you so much for making this change. The new route is exactly what we need right now. As someone who has walked the Procession since the very beginning, I’ve found that the last few years it has felt challenging to maintain a reverential and introspective focus as the Procession has been treated more and more like a spectacle for the sake of spectacle… like an entertaining and weird parade and not like the memorial walk that it was (and is) intended to be. Huge spectacles can certainly be intoxicating, but the soul of our Procession is the enduring need to share our grief and celebrate our love for our dead, for our living, and for each other. It is meant to be a walk that we all take together (at our own pace and in our own way) and not simply an entertaining parade/party. At one time, Downtown Tucson was the perfect place for us all to gather and walk together, but downtown has matured (which is not a bad thing… I’m glad that our downtown is now thriving both day and night) and our Procession needs to seek its roots again. The Santa Cruz River (which bears the mark of how we have forced change on this fierce yet delicate environment) and the old Westside neighborhoods that butt up against the Ghost River provide the right surroundings for us to walk with each other, together in our reverence, mourning, joy, and love. Thank you for making this change and thank you for making it this year. It feels so right.

    CR says:

    Beautiful way to honor the past, present and future of one of the many hearts of our town. Thank you for all of the information links.

    Krishna says:

    So glad that route is changing for this space. This space is awesome and will certainly shape the Procession in a manner that speaks volumes in honoring SO MUCH. Great idea MMOS!

    Mark Alexander says:

    A map would be helpful.

      Melanie says:

      There will be one. A local press outlet decided they wanted to run a story about the route a few days before our intended release date, so we had to go ahead and release. The map was one of the last ducks to get in a row, and it hadn’t quite gotten there yet! Soon.

    Janet says:

    There are two parking lots close to St Mary’s rd and the Santa Cruz.Ome is the park and ride lot btw St Mary’s and Speedway on the frontage rd going north.The other is next to Oury park in Barrio Anita, its a big dirt lot. I hope this is helpful.

      Melanie says:

      Thank you for the helpful info, Janet! We’ll have parking info coming out in the next couple weeks, and any additional tips are always appreciated!

        Libby Davison says:

        I also suggest for those who are game, that the big Albertson’s lot at Speedway/Silverbell is a good place to leave yr car. Or – if the School for Deaf/Blind will allow it…But I also can see the point of parking near the END of the route, near Mission Lane or Mission Road, or even at Cushing. Lots of options!


    It is not clear from the email and the website post exactly where the All Souls Procession will start and end. There are references to starting west of I-10 yet where is the actual starting point?

      Melanie says:

      Hi Armando! The new route is on the West side, paralleling the Santa Cruz River. It begins on Grande Avenue south of Speedway Boulevard., left on St. Mary’s Road, then right onto Bonita Avenue. It flows around the Garden of Gethsemane toward the Finale Site, situated between the river and the Mercado San Agustin. Pedestrians will be able to continue on the Riverwalk south of Congress Street and take the stairs at Cushing Street up to the Finale site. (Floats and others who do not want to tackle stairs will want to turn right at Congress Street to access the Finale site.)

    singer says:

    Changing the route – good idea! Changing the finale location to the riverbed would be even better. The symbolism is perfect…

      Melanie says:

      That would be amazing! But unfortunately logistically not possible.

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