Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Happy Arizona statehood day!

Ninety-four years ago today Arizona became the 48th state of America. The history of this state is as expansive and unusually boring as the Sonoran Desert:

  • Nobody knows how Arizona got its name. Some suggest in comes from the Uto-Aztecan O'odham language, spoken by the Pima and Papago natives who spread out across the southern portion of the region. It may have been "alĭ son" or even "alĭ sona,"with the 'l' sounding like an 'r' to European invaders. The name may have also been a mistake. A town south of the Mexican border was called Arizonac. Then the Spaniards messed up Father Keno's maps and dropped the 'c.' Some insist, wrongly, the name comes from the Spanish words arida zona -- "arid zone." However, if correctly spoken, the Spanish would have called it zona arida. A lesser known myth is perpetuated by our favorite local bald man, Charles Barkley, the Paradise Valley homeowner who proclaimed it to be "Hairyzona," for the great number of hairy-back guys who run around town without shirts on. Barkley is also the same person who, when asked if he would play for a team in a state that does not honor Martin Luther King Jr. with a paid holiday, replied: "For $3 million a year I'd play for the KKK." Shame is not a useful commodity around here.

  • Arizona has always been the new home for the unloved. Who settled Arizona? Native tribes probably driven out of more green geography to the north and the south. Gold prospectors who failed in California and returned to Arizona where they ran out of money. Mormons looking for safety. Civil War expatriates, particularly from the South. Hordes of immigrants during Westward expansion. People from the East and the Midwest looking for work and cheap land. Illegals from Mexico. Basically, if you can't make it any place else, there's always room in Arizona.

  • Less than half of Arizona is desert climate. That's right, nearly 60 percent of Arizona land is some kind of mountain, ridge, or federally-protected forest. About 90 miles north of blazing hot Phoenix (and practically straight up into heaven) is the mountain town of Flagstaff. Not far from Flagstaff is Humphrey's Peak, which reaches over 12,000 feet high. Phoenix itself is a high elevation desert plateau, with downtown Phoenix resting at about 1,100 feet above sea level, and outlying north and eastern portions of the metropolis rolling upwards. Rejected state slogan: "Arizona. We're higher than you think."

  • Arizona is a "cowboy" state, but we're not talking about guys with six-shooters. Arizona is sort of like the American version of France. We appear to love politics only to the point that it allows us to disagree with everyone else. The state controlling party has been the GOP since 1950, but even then our heroes are usually libertarian wing nuts like Barry Goldwater and John McCain. We might be the only state that could put someone like J.D. Hayworth, a former sportscaster, into office. Hayworth is known locally as "Foghorn Leghorn." Our state sport is recalling our governors; we've had three successful recalls, and two others that ended in resignation since we achieved statehood. Most famous was Gov. Evan Mecham, who was so unpopular in the late 80s that political cartoonist Steve Benson -- grandson of then Mormon prophet Ezra Taft Benson -- drew a cartoon of Gov. Mecham holding the "Book of Moron." Mecham resigned. Benson left the church, then was excommunicated. Fun stuff.

  • Arizona is still largely unpopulated, but not for long. The state is the sixth largest in acreage in the U.S., but remains one of the least in terms of people living here. It's surprising to many, given this knowledge, that Arizona ranks among the top 20 state economies in the country, with more circulated annual money than Norway, Denmark, Ireland or New Zealand. Where large commercial agrobusinesses once harvested large orange and cotton crops, we now have rows and rows of red-tile roofs and three-car garages. Desert land is and will always be cheap (since you have to do few improvements), so growth industries are king in this state. Arizona has been ranked among the top 5 fastest growing states in the U.S. since WWII ended, and should remain there for at least the next century. If you don't live here yet, Census numbers suggest you will eventually. Maybe we'll give Southern California back to the Mexicans since they're all moving here, and they can keep Hollywood at no extra charge. We just want to be able to visit San Diego 10 times each summer.

  • We are well-churched. Four out of 5 Arizonans classify themselves as Christians, over 40 percent of those declaring themselves as Protestant. Another 1/3 of that group are Catholics, with about 5 percent declared as Mormons. However, I've discovered a growing group among us, and I expect to soon see a monument built to their god: the almighty real estate developer.

  • We don't really stray too far. Four of the state's five biggest cities are in the Phoenix Metro area. Phoenix is tops at about 2 million, with Tucson 90 miles to the south pushing 1 million. However, Phoenix's neighbors to the east include Mesa (~ 400,000), Gilbert (~ 200,000), and Chandler (~ 200,000). They are all connected by freeways with no open spaces between. It's just one big sprawling master-planned community, and they're still growing. What's scary is the fastest growing portion of greater Phoenix is to the west, where we're expected to see an additional three million people over the next 20 years. Someday someone's going to figure out it's really, really hot here.
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