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Arizona: Grand Canyon State

CAPITAL: Phoenix
JOINED UNION: February 14, 1912
STATE BIRD: Cactus Wren
STATE FLOWER: Saguaro Cactus Flower
MEANING OF STATE NAME: Spanish interpretation of "arizuma," an Aztec Indian word meaning "silver-bearing." Also based on Pima Indian word "arizonac" for "little spring place."
1992 POPULATION: 3,832,294
LAND AREA: 113,642 square miles
ECONOMY: Tourism, mining, electronics, publishing, aircraft manufacture, agriculture
HISTORY: Home to Indian cultures such as the Hopi, Apache, and Navajo for many years before the Spanish discovered the area in 1530s. Ruled by Spain until Mexico won its independence in 1821. America took the territory from Mexico during the Mexican-American War of 1848. Today, Arizona has one of America's fastest-growing populations, thanks to its warm climate. It is a mecca for golfers, with many luxurious golf resorts.

The Colorful Grand Canyon

Just before dusk, with the low rays of the sun striking its variously colored granite, sandstone, shale and limestone walls, the Grand Canyon lights up in brilliant and beautiful colors.

It is indeed a "grand" canyon, as deep as one mile and 18 miles wide in places. The canyon is in a national park at the north edge of the State of Arizona in an area the size of the State of Rhode Island.

Through the canyon flows the Colorado River, which scientists say cut the canyon into its many rocky formations over millions of years.

The first European to see the canyon was Garc°a LĘpez de C rdenas, who encountered it in 1540 as part of Francisco Coronado's expedition in the Pacific Southwest.

The Grand Canyon area was made a national park in 1919.

The Canals That Aren't There

1866 AD


At one time some people thought there were canals on Mars, built by Martians. There weren't -- it was just a mistranslation.

In 1866, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli discovered the "canals" of Mars, though actually he called them "canali" -- channels in Italian. Channels can occur in nature, as in river channels, and are not necessarily artificial. However, the American amateur-astronomer-turned-pro, Percival Lowell, called them canals -- and canals are artificial. This meant there were Martians on Mars, or so he thought.

Schiaparelli never agreed with Lowell about the Martians, and we now know that the canals were an optical illusion. Seeing the tiny disk of Mars in a telescope, and watching it dance at high magnification in our soupy, swirling atmosphere, causes dark spots to seem momentarily to be connected by lines. So Lowell's wonderful story of canals bringing water from the ice caps to the Martian cities has to go back into the pages of fantasy.

The photos of Mars sent back in our time by the Viking orbiters and other spacecraft prove that the canals were an optical illusion.

Bombs From Space

50,000 BC


About 50,000 years ago -- if there were any Native Americans in what is today the state of Arizona -- they must have been shocked by a devastating crash.

A huge nickel-iron meteorite, 40 to 50 meters in diameter and weighing about a million tons, smashed into the Earth with the energy of a 15-20 megaton hydrogen bomb. It left a gigantic hole in the ground that is still visible today. The hole, 1.2 kilometers (4,000 feet) in diameter, is now a tourist attraction near Flagstaff, Arizona.

Officially, it is called Barringer Crater, but it is widely known as Meteor Crater. (It really should be called Meteorite Crater, because a meteorite is a meteor big enough so that it doesn't burn up in the atmosphere and manages to hit the ground.) Also, while meteors are thought to often be tiny pieces of comets, meteorites are usually pieces of asteroid, which Barringer probably was.

There are about 100 meteorite craters on Earth, many of them so old that they are worn down and covered with vegetation, making them difficult to see. The reason Earth is not as heavily cratered as the Moon is that our atmosphere allows erosion to take place. Water and wind and plant life wear away the surface of the Earth. On the Moon, with no air, water or life, the surface doesn't change except when the occasional meteorite hits.

The solar system is swarming with dangerous objects such as the one that hit Arizona. Astronomers estimate that one meteorite makes a crater ten kilometers (six miles) in diameter every hundred thousand years. But even smaller ones can be dangerous.

In 1908, for example, something from space hit Siberia. The region known as Tunguska was struck by a fireball. It was probably only about 15 meters (16 yards) across, but it flattened much of a forest and was heard hundreds of miles away. It was probably a piece of a comet, perhaps the comet known as Encke. Its explosive force was about equal to a huge 12-megaton hydrogen bomb. Fortunately, that part of Siberia had no people living in it, so there was no human loss of

Some scientists worry that we may receive a hit like this someday. We may not be so fortunate to have it land in an isolated area. Even medium-sized objects like these can be devastating. Unfortunately, these objects are very difficult to find. In a program called Spaceguard, NASA scientists have proposed monitoring the skies for such dangerous meteorites. If we detect them far enough away, we might be able to deflect them with rocket-launched bombs.

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