Why doesn’t Arizona have an ocean? It’s a fair question with both a simple and complex answer. Simply put, because California and Mexico are in the way. But, if you dig deeper, you will realize a bit more as to why Arizona doesn’t have its own border on the ocean.
We have to look back into the history books to uncover how Arizona was formed and why it did not elect (or was not allowed) to claim some part of the oceanfront for itself.
Why Doesn’t Arizona Have an Ocean? A History Lesson
Arizona joined the United States of America as the 48th state in February 1912. Prior to that, Arizona’s land belonged to Mexico. However, after the Mexican-American War that ended in 1848, the US and Mexico negotiated for the handover of Arizona to the US in what was known as the Gadsden Purchase in 1853.
In that agreement, the US gained all the land south of the Gila River with hopes of securing the land for a transcontinental railway.
At the time, much of the land was barren and unused and was seen as a pass-through to get to the coast in California. Therefore, Arizona was not actually expected to produce any goods that needed to be shipped or received via a port, so the oceanfront was not a vital part of the agreement.
Once Arizona became a state and started to grow, the railway was still sufficient enough to serve the needs of the state, which further deprioritized its need to be close to the water. They were content to allow California to manage all of the shipping needs from the railroads once they reached the ocean.
Additionally, the original cost of the agreement was pretty steep, so a request for more land that was attached to the ocean may not have been economically viable. The Gadsden Purchase cost $15 million in 1853, which is about $450 million in today’s value.
While that may not seem like a lot for a government to spend, it was still a pretty substantial amount for an area of the nation that was quite unknown and lightly populated. Without knowing the future of the state, it was easier to agree to a smaller amount of land and also not push the Mexican government during an already tense period.
Was it actually a good idea for Arizona to remain its current size and not stretch to the ocean? If it did reach the ocean and would now manage the area from present-day San Diego to Puerto Peñasco, for example, the state would need to actually provide service for that whole stretch of land.
Of course, Arizona may have benefitted from the extra tourism and tax money that comes with a major development along the water.
Still, the majority of residents in Arizona are relatively close to the ocean today. The drive from Phoenix to the beaches of San Diego is just 5 hours. Meanwhile, the flight is only an hour long.
Arizona is also not just all deserts as it has its fair share of lakes and rivers. There’s the famous Lake Havasu in the western part of the state as well as the Gila River that runs through the Phoenix metropolitan area.
So, why doesn’t Arizona have an ocean? Ultimately, it is because the US government did not feel the need to acquire any oceanfront land during their original negotiations with Mexico since the land around Arizona was desired more to build railroads to interlink the country than for ports to ship goods from.
It would be easy to second-guess that decision today, but we are not sure that Arizona is better or worse-off for deciding so.
Since that point, Arizona has thrived and has continued to attract new residents from different states every year. Its relatively low cost of living combined with its large tracts of land allow people to live freely and easily. Similarly, its excellent location near California and numerous activities in nature make it a prime area to live.
Did Arizona ever need an ocean? Honestly, we don’t think so. It has done well with the resources it has to become one of the top 20 states in the nation in terms of overall GDP.