The Grand Canyon, the desert, and the hot weather are a few things we instantly associate with Arizona, but besides these, what is Arizona famous for?
Located in Southwestern USA, Arizona is a landlocked state that borders California and Nevada to the West, Mexico to the south, and the other four corners states: Utah to the north, Colorado to the northeast, and New Mexico to the east. Arizona is the 6th biggest state in the union and the 14th most populous state with 7.2 million people.
Arizona has been nicknamed the “Grand Canyon State” for obvious reasons, but in the past, it was also known as the “copper state” due to its massive production of copper. Arizona is an excellent destination today, attracting millions of tourists with its lovely weather, outstanding natural beauty, and famous landmarks.
But for now, let’s analyze what is Arizona famous for!
Ten things Arizona is famous for
The Grand Canyon is the most obvious answer to the question, “What is Arizona famous for.” So obvious that it has become the nickname of the state. With 6 million visitors annually, it is the state’s most famous landmark and one of the most famous natural wonders in the USA and the world.
Encompassing 277 miles (446 km) of the Colorado River and adjacent uplands, the Grand Canyon is a steep-sided canyon up to 18 miles (29 km) wide and a depth of 6,093 feet (or 1,857 meters). It is an immense canyon, but it’s not the biggest in the world – it is outranked by seven others around the world.
Scientists estimate that it took about 5 to 6 million years for the Colorado River (and its tributaries) to expose about two billion years of Earth’s geological history, cutting through layers of colored rocks. Some of these rocks are considered one of the oldest exposed rocks on earth, allowing geologists to study evolution. The oldest ones are the Vishnu Basement Rocks, close to the bottom of the Inner Gorge.
The Grand Canyon has been a national park since 1919 and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979. With roughly 6 million visitors every year, it is the second most popular national park in the USA and a world-famous natural wonder. If the weather allows, the south rim is open year-round, while the north rim is usually open only from May to October.
Putting the Grand Canyon aside, one of the first things people imagine when thinking about Arizona is the desert – the really hot desert. Or, to be more accurate, the four deserts. Arizona contains part of the four great deserts of North America:
- The Great Basin desert in the northeastern part of the state, where the Grand Canyon is.
- The Mojave desert is the driest of the North American deserts and covers a small part of Arizona’s northwest corner.
- The Chihuahuan desert is the largest in North America and includes the southeastern tip of Arizona;
- The Sonoran desert is larger than all the other three combined (in Arizona), taking up most of the southwest and central parts of the state.
Surrounding Arizona’s two major cities, the Sonoran desert is clearly the desert mostly associated with the state. Despite being a desert and a very hot one, it is also quite green, and during wildflower season, it has several different hues. Purple, yellow, red, white, and pink flowers invade the desert. Finally, it also has a wide variety of animals, including Gila monsters, horned lizards, desert mule deer, and javelina.
Nevertheless, the most iconic image of the Arizona desert is the Saguaro cacti. They are so famous and typically Arizonian that we decided it needed a topic on its own.
Native American heritage
What is Arizona famous for? The Native American heritage is one of the first things that comes to mind. The Navajo people are one of the primary reasons for it, but there are much more.
Native Americans have been living in Arizona for thousands of years. Estimations go back to 12,000 years ago, much earlier than the European settlements, and even predating the extinction of mammoths and saber-tooths. Some of these prehistoric tribes include the Ancestral Pueblo (in the four corners area), the Hohokam (valley of the sun to Mexico), Patayan (western region), and the Sinagua (around Flagstaff)
Today, about one-fourth of Arizona is reservation land, making it the state with the largest percentage of lands attributed to Native Americans. 22 American Indian tribes in Arizona contribute highly to the state’s culture and richness, from the huge Navajo nation to the tiny Havasupai.
The Navajo Nation is the largest Native American reservation, most of which is located in Arizona. Covering about 17,544,500 acres, it is larger than 10 US states and has 332 129 tribal members.
The Saguaro is a symbol of Arizona and a symbol of the far west. It is part of our collective image of the southwest USA, particularly with its permanent feature in movies, series, comics, and even brands. Whenever someone wants to convey this region, a Saguaro appears… However, it is important to note that Saguaros are native to the Sonoran desert, which spans only through Northern Mexico, Arizona, and a small part of Southeast California.
The Saguaro are large, tree-like columnar cacti, usually developing branches (or arms) as they age. They can grow 3–16 meters (10–52 ft) tall and up to 75 cm (30 in) in diameter and live for 150-200 years. Their growth rate depends on temperature and water, but they are usually very slow growers. A fully grown Saguaro can weigh between 3200-4800 pounds, making it the largest cacti in the USA.
Saguaros are typically covered with spines. In the late spring, they have white flowers, while in summer, they have edible red fruit. Their iconic arms are created to increase the plant’s reproductive capacity, and their tubular shape allows them to absorb and store considerable amounts of rainwater, which they later use when there are droughts.
For this, the Saguaro was an essential source of food and shelter for humans for thousands of years. Today they are a defining plant of the Sonoran desert, and the Saguaro cactus blossom is Arizona’s state flower.
Copper is one of the main products in Arizona. In fact, it was so important that for a long time, Arizona used to be called the copper state. Copper mining has been one of the major industries in Arizona since the 19th century.
Gold and silver are also produced in Arizona as byproducts of copper mining. However, in the 18th the early explorers used to prospect for gold and silver, ignoring copper. Only later in the late 19th century did copper become economically viable to mine and ship.
Today, Arizona is still the leading copper-producing state in the USA, producing 830 000 metric tons of copper in 2018. More than 50% of the copper produced in the USA comes from Arizona.
Arizona has six major copper areas: Jerome Arizona, Ajo, Clifton-Morenci district, Bisbee (Warren district), Globe-Miami district, and White Mesa district.
Turquoise is the official gemstone of Arizona, but it’s more than that. It is the most important gemstone in the southwest and a symbol of Native American jewelry. It can be found worldwide; however, Arizona’s Turquoise is considered one of the best in the world.
Turquoise is made of water, phosphate, copper, and aluminum. It is typically found in arid regions rich in copper and volcanic rocks, just like Arizona. It is an opaque mineral famous for its diverse blue/green hues. It is a rare and valuable gemstone used as an ornamental stone for thousands of years.
All the Southwest is rich in Turquoise, but Arizona is the most important producer by value, with several mines in the state. The sleeping beauty mine and the Kingman Mine are probably the two most famous due to the unique color and quality of the turquoise they produce.
The Hoover Dam is located on the Colorado River on the border with Nevada. It is one of the most famous landmarks in both Arizona and Nevada, as its construction was a massive project and an incredible engineering feat. Until 1948 it was the world’s largest hydroelectric power station.
The Hoover Dam is pivotal to the economy of both states providing irrigation water, controlling floods, and producing electricity. It completely changed the two states, presenting a water source to a deserted area. Without the dam and the reservoir, it would be impossible for a city like Las Vegas to exist.
Constructed between 1931 and 1936, it is 726 feet high and 1 244 feet long. At the time of completion, it was the largest dam in the world. Today, the Hoover Dam is a huge tourist attraction receiving more than one million visitors per year. The dam’s crest was used to cross the Colorado River until 2010, when a bypass was opened.
When complete, Lake Mead is the largest reservoir by volume in the United States. At total capacity, it is 112 miles long, 532 feet deep, and has roughly 247 square miles of surface area. However, the lake doesn’t reach total capacity since 1983 due to increased water demand and droughts. In June 2021, lake mead was only at 35% capacity, an all-time low record.
University of Phoenix
This is a weird one, but it’s true, right? One of the most famous things in Arizona is the University of Phoenix. All those nationwide cheesy ads kind of worked. The ads were famously cheesy, bad even, but they have put the university on the map and are one of the first things many people remember when thinking of Arizona.
Founded in 1976, the University of Phoenix is a for-profit university headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona. It confers certificates and degrees at certificate, associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree levels. With an open enrollment policy, it accepts all candidates with a high-school diploma, GED, or equivalent.
In the 1990s, the University of Phoenix was considered an innovator in higher education for working adults and in online programs. During the 2000’s it evolved into the biggest online university in the US, with 460 000 students. However, students at the University of Phoenix have a really low graduation rate and a high rate of student loan default.
In the 2010s, the university became infamous for its deceptive advertising to prospective students, having paid hundreds of millions of dollars in fines and settlements. Consequently, the enrollment decreased, and the number of students is now about 100 000.
We have talked about the Grand Canyon, the most iconic of the Arizona landmarks, and the Hoover Dam, but there are plenty of others that are well-known globally. As we mentioned earlier, Arizona is a popular tourist destination due to its beautiful open spaces, outdoor activities, scenic lookouts, and famous landmarks.
Some of the most popular landmarks in Arizona are:
- Antelope Canyon – beautiful slot canyon in the Navajo Nation and a popular location for photographers and sightseers
- Havasu Falls – one of the most beautiful falls in the USA, particularly because of its blue-green waters.
- Monument Valley – famous for its sandstone masterpieces that tower at heights of 400 to 1,000 feet
- Red Rocks of Sedona
- And many others like the Grand Falls, the petrified forest, the painted desert, the meteor crater, saguaro national park…
Records and fun facts about Arizona
Lastly, Arizona holds a few well-known records and is home to unusual, fun facts that make it globally recognized. Let’s delve into some of them:
- Arizona was the last of the 48 contiguous states to join the union – it was admitted in 1912;
- With 1.6 million people, Phoenix is the most populous state capital in the USA;
- Arizona is one of the four-corner states, sharing that border with New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado;
- Arizona is one of the two states that doesn’t have daylight savings time. The other is Hawaii. However, the Navajo Nation does;
- Arizona is a right-to-work state;
- The brand AriZona ice tea has nothing to do with the state. It was created in NY;
- Despite being landlocked, the battleship USS Arizona was named in honor of the state;
- Arizona has an official neckwear – the bola tie;
- “Skydive Arizona” is the largest skydiving center in the world;
- Supai on the Havasupai reservation is the only village in the US where the mail is delivered using mules;
- Founded by the Hopis, Raibi is the oldest Indian settlement in the United States;
- The economy of Arizona is supported by the 5 Cs: Copper, Cotton, Citrus, Cattle, and the recently added Climate;
- It is unlawful to refuse a person a glass of water in Arizona;
- In 2019 Arizona received almost 47 million tourists;
* Cover photo from Get Your Guide