25 Grand Facts About Arizona
There’s a lot more to the southwestern state than cacti, arid climes, and the Grand Canyon. For instance, did you know there’s a monsoon season? Or that it’s home to the oldest franchise in the NFL? Feast your eyes upon these 25 facts.
The Hopi village of Old Oraibi, located in Navajo County, is believed to be the oldest continually-inhabited community in America, dating back to around 1100 CE. If you’re in the area, don’t expect a warm welcome—the village doesn’t offer tours, and inhabitants are (rightfully) wary of outsiders.
In 1539, a Spanish priest named Marcos de Niza led a party through Arizona and New Mexico in search of the “Seven Golden Cities” that supposedly were scattered throughout the unexplored territory. He returned to Mexico several months later claiming to have found one of the legendary cities, and guided a follow-up expedition that included several hundred soldiers under the command of Francisco Vazquez de Coronado. Instead of a golden city, of course, the party encountered a modest Indian villagenear modern-day Zuni, New Mexico. “I can assure you, (Marcos) has not told the truth in a single thing he has said,” Coronado wrote in a letter to Antonio de Mendoza, the viceroy of New Spain, who had commissioned the trip. Vazquez pushed on all the way into modern day Kansas, while de Niza the “Liar Friar” returned to Mexico, disgraced.
3. Following the Mexican-American War, which ended in 1848, Arizona was part of New Mexico … the New Mexico Territory, that is. In 1862, the Arizona Organic Act went to Congress, stipulating that the New Mexico Territory be halved, with Arizona operating as its own territory (and a slave-free one at that). Congress approved the bill, and in 1863 Abraham Lincoln signed it into law.
4. Among the names that officials considered for the new territory were “Montezuma,” “Gadsonia,” and “Pimeria.” The name Arizona is believed to derive from the native phrase Ali-shonak meaning “place of small springs.”
5. The Battle of Picacho Pass, the westernmost battle of the Civil War, took place 50 miles northwest of Tucson in 1862. It was a minor dust-up involving just twelve Union soldiers and ten Confederates. All three casualties were on the Union side, including the party’s blundering commander, who defied orders not to engage the enemy. The Confederate victory was short-lived, however, as Union troops soon recaptured Tucson and quashed the South’s hope of establishing strongholds all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
7. Why so late to the party? One reason was that Arizona was home to one of history’s bloodiest family feuds, which took place in the late 1800s between the Grahams and the Tewksburys. The families actually started out as business partners—albeit in the cattle rustling business—when things quickly turned sour. Over the course of 10 years, the Pleasant Valley War, as it became known, claimed the lives of nearly all the male members of both families, finally ending in 1892 when the last member of the Tewksbury clan, Edwin, shot and killed the last member of the Graham family, Tom. The protracted battle made Arizona appear more like a lawless frontier than a proper state. Some historians believe statehood might have otherwise happened decades earlier.
9. After London Bridge came down in 1968, the city shipped it 5400 miles to be reassembled in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. The resort town’s founder, Robert McCullough, thought it would make a great centerpiece for his new desert getaway, and made a $2.5 million winning bid. Worth noting: This was only the latest version of London Bridge, built in 1831, not the medieval one that famously displayed the heads of William Wallace, Thomas Cromwell and others deemed enemies of the crown.
There’s more altitude than you think: The state’s average height above sea level is around 4000 feet. There are also 25 mountains higher than 10,000 feet.
10. The world’s first retirement community, Sun City, was built by developer Del Webb just northwest of Phoenix. When it opened on New Year’s Day, 1960, more than 100,000 visitors poured in to see the novel concept, which included five model homes, a recreation center, shopping plaza, and a golf course. Sun City expanded quickly and today is home to 40,000 residents over age 55.
12. Think of Arizona the next time you’re enjoying a margarita. The first barrel of tequila produced in the U.S. came from the San Andres Distillery in Nogales in 1936.
Every year, more than five million tourists flock to the Grand Canyon. Ninety percent view the natural wonder from the easily accessible South Rim, which offers free shuttle service and year-round access to restaurants and lodgings.
Cecil B. DeMille planned to shoot his 1914 western The Squaw Man in Flagstaff, but after arriving there following several days of train travel from New York, he decided he didn’t like the city’s mountainous surroundings. So he and his production crew got back on the train and headed up to Los Angeles. They ended up filming in the sleepy town of Hollywood.
15. It’s one of only two states (the other being Hawaii) that don’t observe Daylight Saving Time. Residents turned their clocks back after the Uniform Time Act passed in 1966, but they hated the extra hour of sunlight so much they got Arizona legislators to pass a special exemption bill. While the move has remained popular with residents, it’s worth noting that not everyone in the state follows the exemption: The Navajo Nation, located in northeast Arizona, still observes Daylight Saving Time.
The towering saguaro cactus, whose blooms are recognized as the state’s flower, can grow up to 50 feet high, store hundreds of gallons of water, and live to be up to 200 years old. So don’t even think about cutting one down: tthat could land you in jail for a year.
Despite its notoriously dry climate, Arizona has a monsoon season during the summer. It happens when winds shift from the northwest to the southeast, bringing precipitation up from the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico that can create flash flooding. Residents are instructed to stay vigilant, especially when driving. So many have tried to brave the elements, in fact, that Arizona has instituted a “Stupid Motorist Law,” which requires any driver who goes around a closed-road barricade and gets stranded in floodwaters to pay the cost of their rescue.
18. Arizona is a heavyweight in the astronomy field. In 1930, Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto from the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff. Today, Arizona is home to the largest solar telescope, located at the Kitts Peak National Observatory.
19. The state capital and largest city, Phoenix, was founded in the late 1800s as a hay camp supplying nearby Camp McDougal. The town grew as a trading post, aided by an irrigation system that utilized channels dug by the Hohokam Indians centuries earlier. In 1881, Phoenix was incorporated as a city, and in 1889 it became capital of the Arizona Territory.
20. Talk about rising from the ashes: The population of the metro Phoenix area is 4.3 million, according to census data, making it home to two-thirds of Arizona’s residents.
21. The bolo tie may still be awaiting its mainstream moment, but in Arizona, it’s officially dapper. The tie became the state’s official neckwear in 1971.
Fifty thousand years ago, a meteor slammed into an area southeast of Flagstaff with the force of 150 atomic bombs. The mile-long crater may not be as spectacular as the Grand Canyon, but it’s widely touted as one of the best-preserved meteorite impact zones in the world.
23. The southernmost ski resort in the U.S. is located atop Mount Lemmon (elevation 9000 feet) just outside Tucson. And with 22 runs and plenty of natural snow, it’s no bunny slope.
The Arizona Cardinals are the oldest franchise in the National Football League (well, at least the “Cardinals” part). The Cardinals began in Chicago as the Morgan Athletic Club, and took their name in 1901 after the red hand-me-down jerseys gifted to them by the University of Chicago football team. The Racine Cardinals, as they were known, became the Chicago Cardinals in 1922, and went on to win two league championships in 1925 and 1947. In 1960, the club moved to St. Louis, where they were known as the “football Cardinals” so as not to be confused with the city’s baseball team. After years of on-field mediocrity and declining attendance, the Cardinals moved to Phoenix in 1988.
25. With its long history of copper mining, Arizona is the only state in the union that elects a Mine Inspector. Hats off to you, Joe Hart.