Nickname: The Grand Canyon State

Statehood: 1912; 48th state

Population (as of July 2015): 6,828,065

Capital: Phoenix

Biggest City: Phoenix

Abbreviation: AZ

State bird: cactus wren

State flower: saguaro cactus blossom



People lived in the area that’s now Arizona at least 20,000 years ago, before written history. But in the 1200s, this civilization disappeared, probably due to a drought. Much later, Native American tribes such as the Hopi, Zuni, Navajo, and Apache lived on the land, and today 22 tribes still reside on reservations in the state.


Spanish explorers first arrived in the 1530s, but through the 1840s, Arizona—as well as present-day California, Utah, Nevada, and New Mexico—was a part of Mexico. The United States gained control of the land after winning the Mexican-American War in 1848. In 1863, Arizona became a U.S. territory, then joined the Union in 1912 as the 48th state.



Arizona’s name may have come from an early Arizona explorer of Spanish descent, Juan Bautista de Anza, who may have called it “place of oaks,” or from Papago Native American words that translate to “place of the young spring.”


About five million people visit the state’s nickname each year: the 277-mile-long Grand Canyon.


Arizona is bordered by Nevada in the northwest, Utah in the north, New Mexico in the east, Mexico in the south, and California in the west.


The Grand Canyon snakes through the northwest corner of the state in an area called the Colorado Plateau. Carved by the Colorado River, the canyon plunges 6,000 feet down at its deepest point and stretches 18 miles wide. In the northeast the Painted Desert shows off over 160 miles of colorful, horizontally striped stone, as well as 200-million-year-old fossilized plants and animals in Petrified Forest National Park. The Basin and Range Province covers the rest of the state and includes the Sonoran Desert, and it extends over several other states.


Black bears, desert bighorn sheep, and mountain lions roam in Arizona. Stranger animals such as the coatimundi (a raccoon relative with a tail striped like a lemur’s), the pig-like javelina, and a small wild cat called a jaguarundi are also on the prowl. Birds such as raptors, California condors, and falcons fly overhead, while reptiles like Gila monsters, ornate box turtles, desert tortoises, and rattlesnakes creep through deserts. Amphibians like the endangered Sonoran tiger salamander live near lakes and ponds.


Evergreens such as piñon pines and junipers grow in mountains, and deserts are dotted with mesquite trees, flowering cacti, and shrubs such as sagebrush and creosote bushes.


Arizona produces silver and gold, but its top metal is copper—the state produces the most in the United States. In the early 1900s, the state’s copper helped build the Arizona’s railroads. Part of the largest stand of ponderosas lies in Arizona and extends into New Mexico, which yield lumber and paper.



  • Arizona was home to Apache warrior Geronimo, who fought Mexican and then U.S. troops in the 1800s; civil rights activist and farm rights worker Cesar Chavez; and jazz performer Charles Mingus.
  • Stop by the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, where Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday survived a shootout so famous that 10 movies have been made about it.
  • Stargazers won’t want to miss Kitt Peak National Observatory, which houses the world’s largest collection of optical and radio telescopes. They recently helped discover galaxies 12 billion light-years away!
  • The Hoover Dam, completed in 1935 and named after President Herbert Hoover, is considered an engineering marvel—the water collected at the dam can supply two million acres with water! Tour passageways and tunnels inside the giant dam, walk on top of it, and even take an elevator 530 feet down to the bottom.
  • Check out the sandstone cliffs in Red Rock State Park, which opened in 1991.


Text by Jamie Kiffel-Alcheh


Photo credits: 221A, iStockphoto (flag); KenCanning, iStockphoto (cactus); KeithSzafranski, iStockphoto (cactus wren); Ann Cantelow, Dreamstime (paloverde); maogg, iStockphoto (quarter)

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