Arizona is endlessly amazing. There are all sorts of intriguing tidbits of information that define the state. Take its special relationship with the sun, for example.
Florida calls itself the Sunshine State, but Arizona is actually the sunniest state. In fact, Yuma, tucked away in the southwestern corner of the state, is the sunniest place on Earth. That’s according to the World Meteorological Association. No wonder Yuma’s agricultural business booms with crops basking in more hours of sunshine than anywhere else.
As for Florida, let them keep their motto. Grand Canyon State sounds pretty catchy. Here are nine more cool, fun, weird facts about Arizona, according to The Arizona Republic, which is part of the USA TODAY Network.
The first McDonald’s drive-through
Arizona helped revolutionize the fast food industry in 1975. That’s when the McDonald’s in Sierra Vista opened the company’s first drive-through window.
At the time, soldiers from Fort Huachuca were not allowed to get out of their vehicles off-post while wearing fatigues. The owner of the McDonald’s franchise near the base pushed out a bit of one wall and installed a sliding glass window. Lines of hungry soldiers stretched around the building, and Big Macs flew out the window as fast as the crew could make them.
For good or ill, eating habits were forever altered, and the phrase, “Please pull up to the window” entered the lexicon.
Arizona owns the actual London Bridge
It’s been in the state for almost 50 years, but the fact that London Bridge stretches across a channel of the Colorado River in Lake Havasu City is about as weird as it gets.
In 1968, Robert P. McCulloch Sr., the founder of Lake Havasu City, bought the world’s largest antique for $2.46 million.
The structure was dismantled, each of the 10,276 granite blocks were numbered, then shipped from London to Arizona and painstakingly reassembled. The deal also included ornate lampposts made from Napoleon Bonaparte’s cannons captured at Waterloo.
The process took three years, and in October 1971, a dedication ceremony welcomed the bridge to its new desert home.
Keeping a secret underground
Kartchner Caverns was discovered in 1974 by Randy Tufts and Gary Tenen, young cavers exploring limestone hills in the Whetstone Mountains of southern Arizona.
Squeezing through a narrow opening and crawling for several hundred yards, they found a stunning pristine cave. It was the find of a lifetime. Yet knowing that curious visitors would cause irreparable damage if word got out, they kept this underground jewel a secret. For years!
Think about that. Tufts and Tenen were cavers. Their friends were cavers. Imagine hanging out, swapping tales, comparing discoveries yet not breathing a word of what lay hidden under the Whetstones.
They confided in the Kartchner family who owned the land, and who were also eager to preserve the treasure. Lasting protection for the caverns was finally secured through the state park system.
‘Oklahoma!’ was filmed in Arizona
When Curly McLain sang about the “bright golden haze on the meadow,” he was actually describing Arizona. Filmmakers couldn’t find enough undeveloped land in the Sooner State, so they chose the windswept grasslands of Santa Cruz County as a more suitable location to film the 1955 movie “Oklahoma!”
The best part is they could come back and film it again today in the same location because it’s still a beautiful unspoiled part of Arizona. Those are some seriously wide-open spaces across the plains and rolling hills of Sonoita, Elgin and Patagonia.
Bonus fact: The actual surrey with the fringe on top shown in the movie is on display at Jerome State Historic Park.
Arizona’s national monuments rock
Grand Canyon is the state’s iconic national park. Just a notch below national parks are national monuments. Those can be created by a presidential decree, not an act of Congress. Arizona has 18 national monuments, more than any other state, and they protect some of the state’s most spectacular scenery and cultural treasures.
Arizona national monuments include such gems as Canyon de Chelly, Organ Pipe Cactus, Montezuma Castle, Vermilion Cliffs, Ironwood Forest, Agua Fria and Walnut Canyon. And Chiricahua National Monument near Willcox, known as the “Wonderland of Rocks,” is a place of staggering beauty.
Burros run Oatman
A former gold mining town now is most famous for its four-legged ambassadors. Burros loiter in the middle of the street and collect handouts from travelers. Here’s the thing, though: This wasn’t some scheme concocted by the Oatman Chamber of Commerce, Arizona Office of Tourism or any other agency. The burros initiated the program.
The burros are descendants of animals used by miners and abandoned when the ore played out. At some point, they said the heck with foraging.
Now they wander into town each day and stand around blocking traffic while people feed them alfalfa cubes sold in every store. (Please don’t feed them anything else.) In late afternoon, just before shops close, the burros mosey back into the hills. They repeat the scenario every day. Where else do critters organize a union and execute a business plan?
There is an abundance of hummingbirds
If you’re going to be overrun by something, what’s cuter than an abundance of hummingbirds? More species of the colorful little winged jewels have been recorded in Arizona than any other state. Some sources have the state tied with Texas, but no matter, it’s still a lot of the wee flyers buzzing around feeders and flowerbeds.
The state was the Wild West
What a cast of characters rode across the Arizona Territory and shot their way into the history books. Billy the Kid killed his first man at Fort Grant. The Earps and Clantons swapped lead in a legendary gunfight in a vacant lot near the O.K. Corral. Cochise is buried in Arizona. Geronimo surrendered there.
America’s bloodiest range war raged across the high grazing lands below the Mogollon Rim. The ironically named Pleasant Valley War began as a dispute between the Grahams and the Tewksburys and eventually ensnared friends, neighbors and hired guns. Every attack seemed to prompt a bloodier response.
The war finally ended, not through any truce but because nobody was left to kill. In 1892 Ed Tewksbury gunned down Tom Graham on the streets of Tempe. Ed Tewksbury was not convicted, but there were no more Grahams to come after him. The Pleasant Valley War claimed between 20 and 50 lives depending on whose account you believe.
Altitude with an attitude
Tall, lanky saguaros are the state symbol. The mean elevation of Arizona is 4,100 feet above sea level. Twenty-six 26 mountain peaks soar above 10,000 feet. That’s a lot of high country.
With more than half the state sitting at 4,000 feet — mountains and desert in such close proximity — it’s never hard to locate the season your heart desires all year round. That may be the sweetest fact of all.
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