25 Grand Facts About Arizona
By Jeff Wells
There’s a lot more to Arizona 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.
1. Arizona is home to arguably the oldest continually inhabited community in America.
The Hopi village of Old Oraibi, located in Navajo County, is believed to be the oldest continually inhabited community in the United States, dating back to around 1100 CE. If you’re in the area, Hopi guides offer tours (but note that photography of sacred sites is prohibited).
2. Arizona was originally part of the New Mexico Territory.
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 in which slavery was outlawed (it was still legal in New Mexico). Congress approved the bill, and in 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed it into law.
3. There were a few different names considered for the state.
Among the names that officials considered for the new territory were “Montezuma,” “Gadsonia,” and “Pimeria.” The name Arizona may derive from an O'odham phrase, Al Shon or Ali-Shonak, meaning “place of small springs.”
4. The state was home to a Civil War battle.
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 13 Union soldiers and 10 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.
5. It took a while for Arizona to join the Union.
Arizona was the last of the contiguous 48 states to be incorporated into the U.S., and was admitted on Valentine’s Day, 1912.
6. A bitter family feud may have delayed Arizona's statehood.
Why so late to the party? One reason might have been 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 earlier if not for the violence.
7. Arizona's population skyrocketed in the middle of the 20th century.
The state’s population exploded after World War II, thanks in part to the wide availability of air conditioning. Between 1940 and 1960, the number of residents nearly tripled [PDF].
8. One of the London Bridges has been in Arizona since 1968.
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.
9. The state has more altitude than you would think.
Arizona’s average height above sea level is around 4000 feet, making it the seventh-highest state in the country. There are also 27 mountains in Arizona higher than 10,000 feet.
10. It's home to one of the world’s first retirement communities.
Sun City was built by developer Del Webb just northwest of Phoenix. When it opened on New Year’s weekend in 1960, more than 100,000 visitors poured in to see the novel concept, which included five model homes, a recreation center, a shopping plaza, and a golf course. Sun City expanded quickly and today is home to 40,000 residents over age 55.
11. There's an official state fossil.
Never has petrified wood been given a greater honor.
12. Millions of tourists flock to the Grand Canyon every year.
Every year, around 5.9 million tourists visit Arizona's Grand Canyon, with 90 percent of people viewing the natural wonder from the easily accessible South Rim, which offers free shuttle service and year-round access to restaurants and lodgings.
13. The state almost played a big part in movie history.
Director Cecil B. DeMille was looking for both a place to move his New York-based movie studio and shoot his 1914 western The Squaw Man—and for a little while, Flagstaff, Arizona, seemed to fit the bill. But after arriving there following several days of train travel, he decided he didn’t like the city’s mountainous surroundings and cold winds. 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, which soon became the movie capital of the United States.
14. Most of the state doesn't follow daylight saving time.
Arizona is 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.
15. You can find towering cactuses in Arizona.
The 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.
16. It can rain a lot in Arizona.
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.
17. Arizona is a heavyweight in the astronomy field.
In 1930, Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto from the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff.
18. Phoenix had humble beginnings.
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 people centuries earlier. In 1881, Phoenix was incorporated as a city, and in 1889, it became the capital of the Arizona Territory.
19. The city is home to a huge part of the state's population today.
The population of the metro Phoenix area—including Maricopa, Pinal, and Gila counties—is 4.8 million, according to 2020 census data, making it home to two-thirds of Arizona’s 7.1 million residents. Phoenix alone accounts for 1.6 million.
20. The state takes its bolo ties seriously.
The bolo tie may still be awaiting its mainstream moment, but in Arizona, it’s downright dapper. The tie became the state’s official neckwear in 1971.
21. There's a massive crater to visit.
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.
22. There's a spot avid skiers should know about.
The southernmost ski resort in the U.S. is located atop Mount Lemmon (elevation 9000 feet) just outside Tucson. And with 21 runs and plenty of natural snow, it’s no bunny slope.
23. The Arizona Cardinals are the oldest NFL team. Kind of.
The Arizona Cardinals are technically the oldest franchise in the National Football League, but it's a little more complicated than that. The team began in Chicago as the Morgan Athletic Club in 1898, and took the "Cardinals" name in 1901 after the red hand-me-down jerseys given 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 team moved to Phoenix in 1988 and became the Phoenix Cardinals before that changed to the Arizona Cardinals in 1994.
24. There's one elected official that you'll find only in Arizona.
With its long history of copper and silver mining, Arizona is the only state in the union that elects a Mine Inspector. Hats off to you, Paul Marsh.
25. AriZona Iced Tea is not made in Arizona.
The beverage company was founded in New York in 1992 and is based in Woodbury, Long Island, today. As for why the company is named AriZona, the official website offered up an explanation: "Don Vultaggio, the owner of the company, looked at a map to see where it was hot. At first he thought of naming it Santa Fe, then they focused on AriZona and the rest, as they say, is history."
This article was originally published in 2015; it has been updated for 2022.