I was born and raised in Scottsdale, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix. Nearly every house here has a swimming pool and my sister and I were quite the fish, living in the water every day, all summer long. The heat is legendary.
Arizona is called the Grand Canyon State and each year over 5 million visitors flock to see this natural wonder of the world. As part of the Four Corners region with New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah, Arizona has one of the largest U.S. Indian populations—more than 14 tribes are represented on 20 reservations, including the Apache, the Navajo, the Hopi, the Hualapai, and the Havasupai. The state also regulates an international border with Mexico, embroiling the government in controversial immigration issues. The capital and largest city is Phoenix, with a population of 1.5 million. Arizona is one of two states that does not observe Daylight Savings Time, except in the Navajo Nation, located in the northeastern region of the state.
Arizona is the 48th state and the last of the contiguous states admitted into the Union, achieving statehood on February 14th, 1912. So this year marks the state’s 100th birthday. The area is noted for its desert climate, exceptionally hot summers and mild winters, but also features pine forests and mountain ranges in the northern high country.
Marcos de Niza, a Spanish Franciscan friar, was the first European to explore Arizona. He entered the area in 1539 in search of the mythical Seven Cities of Gold. In 1775 the Spanish established Fort Tucson. In 1848, after the Mexican War, most of the Arizona territory became part of the United States, and the southern portion was added by the Gadsden Purchase in 1853.
Arizona’s rich history includes the surrender of the great Apache chief Geronimo to the U.S. Army and the West’s most famous shoot-out at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona.
The star attraction, the Grand Canyon, is a steep gorge located in northern Arizona. Carved by the Colorado River and 277 miles long, it ranges in width from 4 to 18 miles and attains a depth of more than 1 mile. Nearly 2 billion years of the Earth’s history are visible in the exposed layers of sediment.
In the northern part of the state are Monument Valley, the Painted Desert, and the Petrified National Forest. Monument Valley is characterized by a cluster of vast sandstone buttes. The area was immortalized in John Ford westerns such as “The Searchers.” The Painted Desert is a 146-square-mile area of badlands composed of stratified layers of easily erodible siltstone, mudstone, and shale. An assortment of fossilized prehistoric plants and animals are found in the region, as well as dinosaur tracks and evidence of early human habitation. Petrified Forest National Park is known for its fossils, especially fallen trees that lived in the Late Triassic period, about 225 million years ago.
Also in the north is Lake Powell, the second largest man-made reservoir in the U.S., created by the controversial Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River. It was named for explorer John Wesley Powell, a one-armed American Civil War veteran who explored the river via three wooden boats in 1869.
Arizona is home to one of the most well-preserved meteorite impact sites in the world. Meteor Crater is a giant hole in the middle of the high plains of the Colorado Plateau, about 25 miles west of Winslow. The crater is nearly 1 mile wide and 570 feet deep and was the result of a collision between a piece of an asteroid traveling at 26,000 miles per hour and planet Earth approximately 50,000 years ago. The strange terrain was used as a training ground for the Apollo astronauts.
Early in its history, Arizona’s economy relied on the “five C’s”: copper, cotton, cattle, citrus, and climate. At one point Arizona was the largest producer of cotton in the country. Copper is still extensively mined from many expansive open-pit and underground mines, accounting for two-thirds of the nation’s output. Today manufacturing has become Arizona’s most important industry. Principal products include electrical, communications, and aeronautical items. Agriculture is also a big part of the state’s economy.
After living in the Pittsburgh area for nearly 20 years, I recently moved back to Arizona with my husband and children. One thing hadn’t changed—the heat. My children are still adjusting!
Kristy McCaffrey writes historical western romances. Her newest book, THE SPARROW, is now available from Whiskey Creek Press and is set in the Grand Canyon in 1877.
(photos provided by author)
(photos provided by author)