Arizona and the Moon Landing


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The front page of the July 25th, 1969 Arizona Republic, which featured a headline announcing the safe return of the triumphant Apollo 11 crew.

The front page headline of the July 25th, 1969 Arizona Republic announced, “They’re back and safe,” they being the three Apollo 11 astronauts who had splashed down in the Pacific Ocean the day prior, thus completing their heroic “giant leap for mankind.” Terrestrial sites most often associated with the July 1969 moon landing include the Kennedy Space Center near Cape Canaveral, Florida, from which the Moon-bound rocket blasted off on July 16th, and NASA’s Houston, Texas Mission Control Center. However, several Arizona locations number among the lesser known sites tied to the overall success of the Apollo 11 mission specifically and astrogeology in general.

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A postcard showing Arizona’s Meteor Crater, one of the many sites visited by NASA astronauts in preparation for the Apollo moon missions of the 1960s and 1970s.

While training for lunar missions including Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong and other astronauts visited the Grand Canyon, Meteor Crater, Sunset Crater, and Kitt Peak National Observatory. Cinder Lake and Sunset Crater proved to be important locations for testing technology such as cameras and vehicles to be deployed on the Moon and Flagstaff proudly served as home to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Center of Astrogeology, a significant contributor to NASA’s successful Apollo program. Though now little-known for its role in putting men on the Moon, the Flagstaff area did receive widespread recognition during the historic mission. Notably, CBS assigned several journalists to report on-location from the Flagstaff area during the network’s Apollo 11 coverage.

For more information on Arizona’s contributions to the field of astrogeology, please visit

Arizona Petrified Wood in the Walls of the Washington Monument

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The assembled crowd of dignitaries and spectators present at the April 15th, 1924 dedication ceremony included President Coolidge, Senators Ralph Cameron and Henry Fountain Ashurst, Congressman Carl Hayden, and former Arizona Governor Thomas Campbell.
Image credit: Library of Congress

Senators Ralph Cameron and Henry Fountain Ashurst, Congressman Carl Hayden, and former Governor Thomas Campbell dedicated the Washington Monument’s Arizona stone ninety years ago this month. President Calvin Coolidge also spoke at the event, as did Nina Smith, the state Daughters of the American Revolution regent attending the ceremony as Governor Hunt’s official representative. Fittingly, our stone differs from those of all other states as it consists not of granite, marble, limestone, sandstone, or gneiss, but three slabs of petrified wood. The specimens displayed in the monument to President Washington were collected from the Chalcedony Forest near Holbrook, not far from the stunning and somewhat otherworldly landscapes of Petrified Forest National Park.

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April 15th, 1925 Prescott Evening Courier coverage of the dedication ceremony.

Each state of the Union boasts a stone of its own in the Washington Monument, as do many cities, organizations, companies, individuals, and foreign governments. If the choice to embed three pieces of Arizona petrified wood into the walls of the Washington Monument was made out of a desire to draw attention to Arizona’s uniqueness, those in charge of the selection achieved their purpose. President Calvin Coolidge’s dedicatory remarks included reference to the state’s grand agricultural potential and significant mineral resources. Likely to the great pleasure of farmers throughout the Grand Canyon State, Silent Cal asked the assembled crowd, “Do we fully realize that the Valley of the Nile, producing sustenance for the mother civilizations, and long afterward serving as the granary of Imperial Rome, was not to be compared for area of productive possibilities to the great valleys of semi-tropic Arizona when they shall presently have been watered by the works of engineering, as the Nile was watered by the works of nature?” More closely related to the petrified wood forests from which the newly placed Arizona stone originated, Coolidge praised the state’s overall importance, saying, “its riches in forests, in metals and minerals, in the inviting glories of the world’s most wonderful scenery will make it one of the wealthiest states.”

While still in place, the various commemorative stones are no longer as accessible as they once were. Visitors to the monument were formerly able to choose between riding an elevator or climbing stairs to reach the 500-foot level observation deck. Those who chose the stairs were rewarded with up-close views of the many stones worked into the walls of the monument, none of which could be seen from inside the elevator car. Now, however, visitors must plan ahead if they wish to view the state stones as the obelisk’s elevator is the standard mode of passage to the top. Visitors hoping to take the more scenic — and cardio-friendly — route to the top of what was once the world’s tallest structure must reserve a special tour in advance of their visit (plan ahead – the Washington Monument is slated to reopen on May 12th of this year). Thankfully, those choosing to ascend to the top in a more expeditious manner can now view selected stones through the special gas-filled elevator doors that clear several times over the course of the ride to allow passengers a fleeting glance at the most notable stones.

For more information on the Arizona stone and other stones donated over the years, please visit

Arizona’s Papago Saguaro National Monument

Arizona is Home to the First-Ever Delisted National Monument

Arizona is home to numerous famous and well-visited National Parks and National Monuments, including the majestic Grand Canyon National Park, the historic Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, and the other-worldly landscapes of Petrified Forest National Park. Notably, the state is also home to what once was Papago Saguaro National Monument, the first ever National Monument to be abolished.

President Woodrow Wilson signed Papago Saguaro NM into existence via a proclamation on January 31st, 1914 – one-hundred years ago last Friday – setting aside approximately 2,050 acres of federally-owned desert land significant for its “splendid examples of the giant and many other species of cacti” and “numerous prehistoric pictographs.” The presence of several Native American petroglyphs and the natural beauty of the area’s Sonoran Desert flora and red rock buttes made the site an obvious choice for designation and the protection such status affords. However, neglect and conflicting ideas regarding proper land usage combined to ensure that Papago Saguaro National Monument did not last.

The area now known as Papago Park has long proved tempting to would-be homesteaders and profiteers alike. Late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century Valley residents filed numerous homestead and mining claims within the boundaries of the present-day park. While, in theory, declaring the site a National Monument protected it from such usage, many still aimed to use the land in an entirely different manner than envisioned by President Wilson. Prior to the area being designated a National Monument, the Salt River Valley Water Users’ Association constructed the New Crosscut Canal and a hydropower plant in close proximity to the soon-to-be-declared park. Following Wilson’s 1914 proclamation creating Papago Saguaro NM, requests were made to sink exploratory oil wells on the land, clear an airstrip to provide access by plane, extract shale deposits for use in cement to be manufactured on-site, and to use the park in several other ways contrary to its intended purpose. While most such proposals were denied, the cement plant did come to fruition.

Use – or misuse, rather – of the land further compromised its appeal. The KKK staged a 1922 rally in the monument, numerous Phoenix businesses saw fit to paint advertisements on the walls of the iconic Hole-in-the-Rock, one group built a picnic table inside the opening of another butte, and many are thought to have pilfered cacti from the park for their own use. Limited conservation funds, misuse by local park-goers, and the monument’s relative remoteness and low out-of-state visitorship figures compounded the many other challenges federal officials faced in overseeing Papago Saguaro, making its status as a National Monument untenable.

Ironically, while Ralph Cameron, Carl Hayden, and others had fought in Congress to set aside the land surrounding the red rock buttes of today’s Papago Park less than two decades earlier, 1929 saw Arizona Congressman Lewis W. Douglas introduce legislation to abolish the National Monument and transfer ownership, for a small fee, to the state of Arizona. Papago Saguaro National Monument was abolished on April 7th, 1930, with the land turned over to the state government. No longer a federal property, the land was available for a greater number of uses. In the years following its delisting, a bass hatchery, Governor Hunt’s white pyramidal tomb, a Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps camp, and a World War II prisoner of war camp were added to the grounds of the former National Monument. After the state sold the bulk of the park to the city of Phoenix in 1959, the land gained a golf course and a zoo, adding to the Desert Botanical Garden established by Gertrude Webster in 1939. Although classified as parkland governed by federal, state, or local authorities for decades, some continue to suggest differing uses for the land, including Frank Lloyd Wright’s idea for a new state capitol to be called Pro Bono Publico and constructed in the middle of the park, a developer’s scheme to erect a 600-foot-tall saguaro cactus-shaped, neon-lined observation tower in the park, or other, more recent proposals.