An Arizona Population Milestone: 7 Million Residents

Maribeth Brady | Phoenix

Arizona remains one of the fastest-growing states in the nation, with its population topping 7 million this year, the U.S. Census Bureau announced last week.

According to Census estimates, Arizona added about 107,000 residents in the past year, giving the Grand Canyon State an estimated population of 7,016,270. That's a 1.6 percent increase over the 2016 population, the sixth-highest in the country in terms of percentage. (The states ahead of Arizona on that list: Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Washington and Florida.)

Arizona's population growth has been among the highest in the nation for several years, but it's fallen short of the prediction Senator Barry Goldwater gave to Arizona Highways in 1978.

"I have stated publicly ... that I feel that Phoenix will grow to be the fifth or sixth largest city in the country," he predicted, correctly. But the second part of his prediction hasn't panned out: "I was asked to project Arizona's population through the year 2012, and from all the data that I used, the number 20 million people came up. But I tempered it and said 18 million."

We've still got a ways to go on that. In fact, 7 million, while an impressive figure, is just 1 million fewer people than visited Grand Canyon National Park in 2016.

Nationwide, the U.S. population increased by 2.3 million, or 0.72 percent, this year. Eight states saw their number of residents decrease; the sharpest decline was in Wyoming, which lost 1 percent of its residents.

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National Park Service Slashes Free-Admission Days for 2018

Visitors will have only four opportunities in 2018 to visit Petrified Forest National Park and other National Park Service sites without paying an entrance fee. | Tanju Bayramoglu

Visitors to America's national parks will have fewer chances to avoid entrance fees next year, the National Park Service announced last week.

The federal agency says it's cutting its number of fee-free days from 10 in 2017 to just four in 2018. Those days will be Martin Luther King Jr. Day (January 15), the first day of National Park Week (April 21), National Public Lands Day (September 22) and Veterans Day (November 11).

In 2017, the fee-free days included the weekends surrounding National Park Week and all of Veterans Day weekend. This year's fee-free days were six fewer than in 2016, when all of National Park Week and four days around the Park Service's centennial were included.

The reduction drew criticism from conservation advocacy group Western Priorities, which accused Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke of "being determined to turn [national parks] into a playground for the rich." The Park Service, though, says the reduction will increase revenue and allow it to improve facilities and address deferred park maintenance.

For more information about the fee-free days, click here.

The move comes amid a public-comment period on the agency's proposal to increase entrance fees at 17 of its most popular parks, including Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. Public comments on that plan are being accepted through this Friday, December 22.

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Controversial Camelback Mountain Christmas Tree Returns

"Camelback Santa" hands out candy canes near the Camelback Mountain Christmas tree in Phoenix. | Courtesy of Ray Stern, Phoenix New Times

Some call it a holiday tradition. Others say it befouls a city landmark. Yes, that's right: A Christmas tree is back atop Camelback Mountain in Phoenix.

Last year, we told you about the controversy that erupted after hikers hauled a tree to the 2,704-foot summit of Camelback. Shortly thereafter, someone chopped off the top of the tree, sparking a fight between the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department, which said it wouldn't allow Christmas trees to be put there, and a group led by the mysterious "Camelback Santa," who urged the city to reconsider.

Eventually, the city permitted a single, undecorated tree to be placed atop Camelback during the holiday season. But that apparently was a one-time permission, and for Camelback Santa and his supporters, a permanent solution has proved elusive, as Ray Stern of the Phoenix New Times reported last week.

The parks department confirmed to Stern that the city's policy of not allowing a Christmas tree remains in effect. But the tree returned to the mountain this year, as Stern found when he climbed Camelback earlier this month. In a combative Facebook Live video, Stern, Camelback Santa and other Camelback climbers argue about the tree. (The language in the video is not safe for most workplaces. Or for children.)

As we did last year, we're going to reserve judgment on the Camelback Mountain Christmas tree — which, as of this writing, is still atop the peak. But what do you think about this practice? Let us know in the comments.

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In Memoriam: Jerry Jacka

Walpi, First Mesa | Jerry Jacka

Jerry Jacka made this photograph of Walpi, on First Mesa, for the September 1980 issue of Arizona Highways. The image was — purely — the result of Jerry’s extraordinary relationship with the Hopi people.

“I contacted the village chief, and he allowed me to take the photograph,” Jerry told us when the image appeared in 100 Greatest Photographs. “I was not allowed to use a tripod. As I was in my vehicle, I rested the camera on the open door and snapped the picture.”

It was — as were all of Jerry’s photographs that both preceded and succeeded Walpi — magic.

“My parents always had the magazine lying around, and I saw one photograph by Ray Manley that just struck me,” he said. “He had shot some Indian artifacts, and there were some artifacts around when I was in high school that I had tried to photograph. I had a dream that one day my images would appear in Arizona Highways.”

It happened in 1958, when a “gosh awful” shot of the Painted Desert Jerry made during his honeymoon with his beloved wife, Lois, appeared in the July issue. In the years since, hundreds of his images have run on the pages of the magazine.

There were photographs of Indian pottery and jewelry, sweeping landscapes of Canyon de Chelly, even more intimate portraits of now-inaccessible destinations on the Navajo Nation, autumn leaves. So much more.

But Jerry Jacka was more than a contributor.  He was a mentor. A storyteller. An artist. A historian. An accordion player. Husband. Father. Grandfather. He was a friend. So many times, he remembered details of Highways’ history that we’d forgotten or never known.

He was a tall man with big hands, a bigger laugh and a giant heart.

Jerry died at his ranch on the Mogollon Rim on Sunday morning.

Lois was there. The people who loved him most were there, too. And, undoubtedly, they will, as will Arizona Highways, preserve his remarkable legacy. 

— Kelly Vaughn, Managing Editor

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Robotic Fish Could Help Clear Weeds in Arizona's Canals

The Crosscut Canal is part of Salt River Project's canal system and passes through Phoenix and Tempe. | Courtesy of Salt River Project

A research project at Arizona State University could eventually mean some new robotic residents of the state's canal system.

Salt River Project is funding the $60,000 project, which aims to develop robotic fish to cut through weeds growing in the canals, ABC15 reported last week. The utility currently adds real fish to the canals to accomplish that task, but those fish can't travel through shallower and narrower parts of the canal system, SRP said.

A team of Ph.D. students is participating in the ASU project, and they've built two prototypes so far. The next step, researchers said, is to add a cutting mechanism and a way for the fish to turn around.

The study will continue into next year, and researchers said that even if the fish never make it into SRP's canals, the research could have implications for water problems worldwide.

SRP's canal system includes 131 miles of canals, plus 1,000 miles of laterals and ditches. Fishing in the canals is legal with an Arizona fishing license, but if you catch a white amur — the fish species SRP adds to the canals to control weeds — you must release it immediately. For more information, click here.

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We Didn't Have Our December 1930 Issue — But This Guy Did

Dennis Chandler displays his copy of Arizona Highways' December 1930 issue. | Jeff Kida

Dennis Chandler is a collector — of Arizona history, specifically. "You name it — if it's Arizona and collectable, I collect it," he says.

So, of all the places to find a copy of Arizona Highways'  long-lost December 1930 issue, Chandler's collection was a pretty good bet.

"My next-door neighbor listens to NPR all the time," he says. "We were chatting, and she said, 'I know you have Arizona Highways, and they're looking for a December 1930 issue.' I said, 'I think I have that one!'"

We're lucky he did. Arizona Highways is in the process of digitizing every old issue of the magazine for archival purposes, including the publicly available archive at the Arizona Memory Project. But none of our collections had that issue from 1930, leading us to wonder if the magazine had skipped a month during the Great Depression. After we got the word out about our search, the Phoenix NPR affiliate produced the report heard by Chandler's neighbor.

Chandler, an Avondale resident, has a collection of more than 3,000 Arizona history books, including bound volumes of our magazine from 1937 and later. He got this issue as part of a purchase from Mike Riley, the owner of Book Gallery in Phoenix. "He called me up and told me, 'I just made a purchase you may be interested in,'" Chandler says.

Chandler likes to tell people he's been in the Phoenix area "since October" before clarifying that he means October 1946. That month, he came to Arizona on a Greyhound bus with his mother and brother. They joined his father, a disabled World War II veteran who had moved here from Missouri for heatlh reasons. Chandler is a veteran himself, having served 12 years in the Navy, including time in Vietnam with the Marines. He then worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 34 years before retiring in 2004.

After the December 1930 issue is scanned, we'll return it to Chandler, who's still working on his history book collection. He also collects Arizona license plates, but only from the year 1936. He's found them for every county but Greenlee; he recently tried to get one on eBay but was outbid at the last minute. So, if you've got a 1936 Greenlee County license plate kicking around, get in touch with us and we'll connect you with him. It's the least we can do as thanks for solving our 87-year-old mystery.

"I'm a strong proponent of the kids learning Arizona history," Chandler says. "Anything I can do to perpetuate that, I'm all for."

— Noah Austin, Associate Editor

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Game and Fish Seeks Help Finding Elk Poachers

An elk near the Grand Canyon. | Jeff Lewis

An elk was illegally killed on the Mogollon Rim earlier this month, and Arizona wildlife officials are looking for the culprits.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department says the female elk was found on the closed Forest Road 308H in the Strawberry area north of Payson, the Associated Press reported this week. It's believed to have been killed November 10 or 11, the department says.

The same poachers are thought to have camped along the road and also killed a non-game bird around the same time, Game and Fish says. There was no open season on elk at the time.

The department has collected fingerprints and possible DNA evidence from the scene, but it's also offering up to $2,500 for information that leads to an arrest in the case. If you have information you'd like to share, you can contact Game and Fish at 800-352-0700 or use the online form at the department's Operation Game Thief website. Be sure to reference case number 17-004469. The information will remain confidential, and you can remain anonymous if you wish.

As longtime readers of Arizona Highways might know, all the elk in Arizona are descendants of animals transplanted from Yellowstone National Park in the 1900s. The new population has flourished, and around 35,000 elk now live in Arizona, according to Game and Fish. The Merriam's elk, a subspecies native to Arizona, was hunted to extinction by the early 1900s.

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ADOT Offers Tips for Winter Travel Safety

Heavy snow caused car crashes and a closure of Interstate 40 between Flagstaff and Williams last Christmas Eve. | Courtesy of Arizona Department of Transportation

If you don't live in Arizona, there's something you should know: We have winter in Arizona. And the Arizona Department of Transportation is hoping to get the word out about staying safe on the road when the snow starts falling.

In a news release last week, the department directed motorists to its Know Snow website for tips on winter travel. It also noted that ADOT has nearly 200 snowplows stationed around Arizona, ready to clear the roads when snow falls on highways.

When it's snowing, the safest place on a highway is behind a snowplow, ADOT said. You should avoid passing a snowplow that's clearing a highway until the driver pulls over to let traffic pass. And you shouldn't assume a snowplow operator knows you're nearby, ADOT added: If you can't see the snowplow driver, he or she probably can't see you.

People heading to Arizona's high country to go sledding or start snowball fights should do so only in designated areas away from highways, the department said. Snowplows can hurl snow and ice a good distance from a highway, and parking near the road also can distract other drivers.

Preparing for a winter trip can also help you stay safe, ADOT said. That includes getting the latest weather report and being willing to postpone travel if necessary. If you are traveling, slow down, leave extra room behind other vehicles, and take along warm clothing, blankets, food, water and an emergency kit.

For more information and tips for staying safe in the snow, visit

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Natural History Museum Aims to 'Free the Dinosaur'

This concept art shows the dinosaur sculpture that the Arizona Museum of Natural History hopes to install on its exterior. | Courtesy of the museum

A museum in the Phoenix area is hoping to add an eye-catching element to its building — and it's looking for donations to get the project going.

The Arizona Museum of Natural History, located in a nondescript building in downtown Mesa, is easy to miss from the street. That's part of why museum officials want to install a life-sized replica of a carnivorous dinosaur — one that will appear to be bursting through the wall of the museum.

The dinosaur, Acrocanthosaurus, roamed the western part of North America more than 100 million years ago, the museum says. In real life, it was 38 feet long and weighed more than 6 tons.

The museum has contracted with a Kansas company to fabricate and install the dinosaur. It's now aiming to raise $150,000 to complete the project, which it says will attract more visitors to the facility. More than 3 million people have visited the museum since 1990, the museum says.

To learn more about the museum and the "Free the Dinosaur" project, or to donate, click here. Even if you can't donate, you might consider paying the museum a visit — it's one of the better values among museums in the Phoenix area.

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ADOT Seeks Input on U.S. 60 Bridge Project

The Pinto Creek Bridge carries U.S. Route 60 traffic over its namesake waterway. | Courtesy of Arizona Department of Transportation

The Arizona Department of Transportation is planning to replace a 68-year-old bridge on U.S. Route 60 near Superior — and is seeking public input on the project.

The Pinto Creek Bridge carries U.S. 60 over Pinto Creek between Superior and Miami, east of the Phoenix area. ADOT says the 637-foot bridge no longer meets minimum federal and state standards, even though it continues to be safe for traffic.

ADOT currently plans to remove the existing bridge and build a new bridge. Other possibilities that were considered include rehabilitating the existing bridge, building a new bridge while keeping the old bridge in place, and taking no action.

Because the bridge is considered historically significant, ADOT was required to complete a report on the project, and that report is now up for public comment. You can read it, and learn more about the department's plans for the bridge, at If you'd like to comment on the report, you can do so via email to [email protected], by phone at 855-712-8530, or by writing to ADOT Communications, 1655 W. Jackson St., MD 126F, Phoenix, AZ 85007. Comments must be received by December 8 to be included in the project record, ADOT says.

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