Arizona Factoids

Someone killed 495,OOO flies in Bisbee. And it's always 11:45 in Florence.

Sure, Arizona has the world's largest land gorge (the Grand Canyon) and the world's smallest rodent (the northern pygmy mouse) and the country's oldest town (838-year-old Oraibi on the Hopi Reservation) and more species of hummingbirds than any other state (14). We've got the world's biggest cacti (saguaros with arms reaching almost as tall as a six-story building) and the hugest rosebush (150 people can sit in its shade down in Tombstone) and the only wash named after a cowboy movie star (Tom Mix).

But those are the sorts of well-worn facts put out by chambers of commerce and tourism bureaus. Dropped in conversation, they fall weightlessly and don't impress or surprise anyone. A good fact should knock you back, make you shake your head and ponder or hoot. Arizona certainly has facts like that. Just take a look at the following collection:

Rex Allen Jr., the cowboy singer who wrote the state's official song, "Arizona," and was commissioned by the state Office of Tourism to write Arizona's Official Diamond Jubilee song, "Diamond in the Rough" (memorializing the anniversary of Arizona's 1912 statehood), and who also leads the band "Arizona" and appears as an Arizona booster in festivals all over the state, does not actually live in Arizona. He prefers Nashville.

Experts have identified eleven different coyote "vocalizations," broken down as follows: woof, growl, huff, bark- howl, yelp, whine, and variations of the yip-howl, lone howl and group howl.

The Navajo Reservation's capital, Window Rock, is not in Navajo County--it's in Apache County. On the other hand, the Apaches' White Mountain Reservation capital, Whiteriver, lies in Navajo County. And not one square inch of the other Apache reservation, the San Carlos, lies in Apache County.

The town of Why, a crossroads south of Ajo in the middle of nowhere, was named in 1965 "because every day people would stop and ask, `Why did you come out here?'" Peggy Kater, one of the town's founders, tells the Ajo Copper News.

In 1886, at the conclusion of the twenty-year campaign against the Apache chief Geronimo, U.S. Army troopers were having a hard time keeping their wardrobes intact: Writes historian Marshall Trimble, "The heavy woolen shirts and pants were uncomfortable; the dark color absorbed heat rather than reflected it; pants wore out in the crotch from long hours in the saddle; and shoes and boots weathered and rotted quickly." Captain Leonard Wood "found a rather ingenious solution. . . . He simply ordered his troopers to strip to their underwear and charge onward."

According to Don Slocum, boating- safety officer for the Arizona Department of Game and Fish, "There are 360,000 boaters in Arizona, but only about 18 percent of them know what they're doing." There's an unusually frank monument in Lake Havasu City--a little tower of cemented stones topped by a brass plaque that reads, "On This Site in 1897 Nothing Happened."

The world's record for high-speed barefoot water-skiing was set at Firebird Lake outside Phoenix in 1977. Lee Kirk averaged 110.02 mph on his bare feet, and his fastest run was 113.67 mph.

One of the more frantic moments in Arizona history was Bisbee's great fly- swatting contest of 1912. According to Bisbee historian Tom Vaughan, the "little boys" of the town organized to fight a severe outbreak, and the winner killed 495,000 flies.

Arizona has more species of venomous reptiles than any other state. We've got 11 species of rattlesnakes, plus the only two known venomous lizards in the world--Gila monsters and Mexican beaded lizards--along with coral snakes and several less venomous snakes, among them the lyre snake, the night snake, and the tropical vine snake, which hangs in trees in desert canyons and drops onto passers-by. Between

100 and 150 Arizonans are bitten
by rattlers each year, but on the
average, somebody dies from a
bite only every year and a half
or so.
There are about
50,000 real estate
agents in Arizona.
A wonder of Page
is Church
Row--
nine churches, lined up one after another

along the main road into town. Give thanks to the Bureau of Reclamation, which had a sense of divine order when it laid out the town as an adjunct to Glen Canyon Dam in 1957. Old-timers remember that lots of cement trucks headed to see the dam somehow got "lost" and turned up instead on Church Row, where they dumped their loads into the forms for all those blessed foundations. There's been talk of trying to get Church Row into the Guinness Book of World Records.

About one third of all the households in Arizona own a pickup truck.
Deer and elk in Arizona (population estimated at 150,000) are outnumbered by cattle more than 6 to 1.

The four clocks above the Pinal County Courthouse--one on each face of the tower--aren't broken, even though their hands never move off 11:45. When the courthouse was built way back in 1891, the builders ran short of funds and couldn't afford working clocks. So fake ones were installed instead.

Arizona is the home of the world's largest heap of mine tailings, which also qualifies as the world's most massive dam--the New Cornelia Tailings near Ajo, 275 million cubic yards of pulverized rock piled 100 feet high and more than 6 miles long across Ten Mile Wash. It was once described in the Ajo Copper News as "a huge triangular mound of totally useless, dusty mining waste."

Austin and Neta Thatcher of Page have ten sons and no daughters. After their tenth baby boy was born, Neta confided to the Lake Powell Chronicle, "A lot of bets have been lost around town."

Less than one fifth of all the land in Arizona is privately owned (17.9 percent). The rest is owned by the federal, state and local governments and Indian tribes. With 27 percent of the state in their hands, Indians own more of Arizona than non-Indians do, unless the public lands are thrown in.

Arizona is the only state ever bombarded from the air by a foreign power. Tiny Naco, Arizona, was caught up in the 1929 Mexican Revolution. Across the line in Naco, Sonora, Mexican federal troops were backed against the border by rebels who held the surrounding hills. According to historian Trimble, "A roguish barnstorming pilot named Patrick Murphy offered his services to the rebel forces. `I can blow the federales right out of their trenches,' he boasted." His biplane became the rebel air force--he flew low over enemy positions while his bombardier used a cigarette to light fuses on the bombs (leather sacks packed with explosives and scrap metal) and let them drop. About ten bombs landed on the Arizona side--one crashed through the roof of a garage and destroyed a Dodge that was parked inside. The raid came to an abrupt halt when "one of the locals stepped outside with a 30.06 Springfield [rifle] and shot Murphy's plane down."

The loudest insects in the world inhabit Arizona. The male cicada, using his tymbal organs to produce 7,400 pulses per minute, makes a racket officially described by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as "Tsh-ee-EEEE-e-ou," and can be heard from more than a quarter of a mile away.

High school teams in Arizona include not only the oh-so-Western Payson Longhorns and the Pima Saddlequeens, but also the Tombstone High Yellowjackets, the Florence Gophers, the Santa Cruz Imps, the Salome Frogs, and the Miami High Vandals and Vandalettes--not to mention the Yuma High Criminals, whose name memorializes the conversion of the old territorial prison into Yuma's first high school: Go, you Criminals!!

Rustlers still manage to make off with about 300 head of cattle and 20 horses each year in Arizona.

"One of history's most bizarre military engagements" was fought near the present-day ghost town of Charleston in Cochise County in 1846 when a military column en route to the Mexican War was charged by wild bulls. According to Arizona Facts and Artifacts With Hysterical Footnotes by Richard L. Thomas and Ruth St. John Thomas, "For several hours huge bulls attacked the troops, damaging wagons, goring horses and mules, and injuring several men. Dozens of bulls were killed by rifle fire before battalion Lieutenant Colonel Phillip St. George Cooke could reorganize his men and move on. The bulls were descendants of cattle introduced by Spanish missionaries . . . wild and elusive enough to escape slaughter by the Apaches."

For 17 years, Irma Hall of Valley Farms has been collecting irons. Now she has 249 of them--modern electrics, older gasoline-powered models and antiques designed to be heated atop wood-burning stoves or by hot coals. She displays them in neat rows on shelves in her dining room. "First I wanted to say I had 100 irons," she explains to the Casa Grande Dispatch. "Then I thought I'd go for 150. Now I'm trying for 500." She never actually puts any of her irons to work--she hates to iron. Her husband has to go around in wrinkled shirts.

Wickenburg is named for Henry Wickenburg, whose discovery of rich gold deposits led to the founding of the town. But his mine eventually played out; he was swindled out of his share of the $20 million it produced, and he died penniless in the town that bore his name.

Jean Sullivan of Kearny has been the mother of six natural children, three stepchildren and 112 foster children. "When my husband married me," she says in the Copper Basin News, "he didn't know what he was getting into!"

In a Valley National Bank survey of more than 500 snowbirds in Phoenix in 1986, 50 percent said their main reason for visiting the desert was "the weather," and only 1 percent mentioned "scenery and cactus." Twenty-three percent were traveling by motor home, 19 percent were pulling a travel trailer, and 4 percent found the "snowbird" label "very offensive."

So many Japanese tourists visit the Grand Canyon that Shoji Fugiwara, a native of Japan, was hired by Grand Canyon Helicopters as the first Japanese-speaking helicopter pilot to provide narrated tours of the national park.

About 1,000 farm or wild animals get run over every year in Arizona.
If all the tunnels in the world's largest underground copper mine--Arizona's San Manuel, operated by Magma Copper--were connected end to end, they'd reach the length of the state, from Nogales to Page.

Bullhead City is named for a landmark that, for all intents and purposes, doesn't exist anymore. Bull's Head Rock was submerged when nearby Davis Dam was built in the 1950s.

Arizona's a real leader in creepy- crawlies. We rank second in the nation in species of bats (28), we're the national headquarters for horny toads (6 of the 7 U.S. species occur here), and we've got the world's oldest spiders (tarantulas can live up to 36 years).

It cost almost $11 million to tear down London Bridge, move it stone by stone across the world and reconstruct it in Lake Havasu City in the late 1960s. But in the year after the job was done, land sales for the developer who pulled it off, Robert P. McCulloch Sr., reportedly went up $110 million.

When you consider nearly a century of Arizona's weather records, the patch of desert around Dateland and Mohawk, in Yuma County, has the fewest rainy days: Even counting traces down to a hundredth-of-an-inch, rain falls only on 13, maybe 14 days a year. The driest spell ever in Arizona was 1956 at Davis Dam on the Colorado River, when rainfall for the entire year totaled a few drops--seven one-hundredths of an inch.

The first letter ever awarded for high school rodeoing has gone to a senior at Wickenburg High. Jolanda Tatum won the purple "W" with "rodeo" sewn into it last spring after an intense lobbying effort by rodeo fans who wanted official nationwide recognition for their sport.

A recent survey of 52 officers in the Cochise County Sheriff's Department revealed that 15 admit to being "superstitious," according to the Bisbee Gazette. "Six of the respondents said they do not walk under a ladder. Six others said they throw salt over their shoulders if it is spilled. Three respondents indicated they do not allow a black cat to cross their paths." Twenty-five of the sheriff's officers--nearly half of the survey group--said they believe "accidents and other incidents come in threes."

About eighty years ago, before the invention of indoor cooling, the Adams Hotel in Phoenix had a sleeping roof--one side for men, the other for women, with a twelve-foot-high fence to separate the sexes.

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