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Stunning photos highlight 95 years of Arizona Highways magazine

Arizona Highways Grand Canyon photo
Posted at 2:12 PM, Dec 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-15 10:57:45-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Arizona Highways magazine has chronicled the state's beauty and history for the past 95 years.

The iconic monthly publication is often credited with bringing in tourists and new residents to the state.

Even in this digital age, Arizona Highways continues to be relevant.

The award-winning magazine is know for its stunning and beautiful photos.

It has been showing off Arizona's unique beauty, culture and history for nearly a century.

A far cry from its beginnings in 1925.

"We began as a trade journal for road engineers," said Arizona Highways Editor in Chief Robert Stieve. "It was pretty dreadful. It was dry and pretty boring."

The current magazine is none of those.

Arizona Highways November 2020

Many readers do not realize Arizona Highways magazine is part of the Arizona Department of Transportation.

"It doesn't usually connect in peoples minds with state government per se," Stieve said.

Fortunately, the state allowed the road engineer trade journal to go in a different direction in 1937. Raymond Carlson was hired as editor. His vision was quite different.

"He really saw this opportunity to showcase Arizona for what it is," recalled Stieve. "In addition to the great landscapes that we see, but (also) the history and the culture, the old west lore, all those things that resonate about Arizona."

Carlson captured the spirit of Arizona by using some of the best writers and landscape photographers in the country. That included a young Ansel Adams.

"Back before Ansel Adams was Ansel Adams, he would basically run out of money," said Stieve. "He would call Ray up and ask if he wanted to buy something. Over the years we purchased all kinds of Ansel Adams images."

His most famous photographs in Arizona Highways were a 1942 image of a Saguaro in Surprise, Arizona, and a 1968 photo of San Xavier Mission.

Ansel Adams photo of San Xavier Mission in Arizona Highways magazine

Tucsonans Esther Henderson and her husband Chuck Abbott, often had photos featured in the magazine. She has the distinction of being this first photographer Arizona Highways paid to use a photo.

Before Barry Goldwater became Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, he was a frequent contributor to Arizona Highways magazine. He had the famous cover photo of the historic December 1946 issue.

Barry Goldwater photo in Arizona Highways magazine

"Arizona Highways in December of 1946, published an issue that was color from cover to cover," Stieve said. "That had never been done. We beat Life magazine, we beat National Geographic, we beat everyone."

Color images that brought Arizona to a nation fascinated with the west.

The magazine often features Native Americans and showcased the native culture, like that Goldwater cover photo titled "Blessed are the Meek."

Subscriptions to Arizona Highways magazine grew and so did the accolades.

"Filled a niche honestly," said Stieve. "It sort of became regarded as the National Geographic of the southwest. Even today we've got subscribers in 120 countries around the world, and all 50 states."

The magazine continues to succeed even when other magazines have failed. Stieve said subscription numbers for Arizona Highways have actually increased the past three years.

"The magazine is today, and I think it always has been, an escape for people. It's a users guide for people who want to get off the couch and go hike in the Catalina's or go down to the grasslands of Sonoita. It's also an armchair traveler magazine as well."

You have a chance to submit your own photos of our state.

The entry deadline is December 15, for Arizona Highways 13th annual photo contest.

Arizona Highways receives about 5,000 entries each year.

Also a terrific way to see Arizona Highways award-winning photos is to follow it on Instagram.

Another example of what makes Arizona Highways magazine Absolutely Arizona.