When I think of July, what immediately pops into my head is fireworks, the smell of burgers on the grill and wiping the sand from my feet after dipping my toes in the ocean. I have spent the better part of 20 years searching for the Arizona connection to every big celebration and even though we were not one of the original 13 colonies, Arizona’s independent American spirit is robust.

In 1912, when we achieved statehood, it did not take Arizona long to become our country’s newest “It Girl.” Our beauty captured the attention and imagination of Hollywood, who declared that Arizona was where “God put the West.”

Soon after, President Roosevelt would dedicate that huge hole north of Flagstaff as a place all Americans should see and that this Natural Wonder of the World would forever be a monument that belonged to everyone. If sharing our beauty on screen wasn’t enough, Arizona’s saguaro cactus has become the grand symbol of the American West.

America’s greatest pastime is deeply rooted in the history of the Grand Canyon State, so you could say it is also Arizona’s greatest pastime. I have stepped foot on the oldest baseball field in the country in Bisbee. I have been told that long before statehood we had teams in our mining and farming communities that would travel all over to compete.

Arizona was very progressive. We had teams for both women and minorities in those territorial days. I guess our history with baseball was enough of a natural transition to bring the boys of summer to the warm dry Arizona desert to play ball each spring.

The San Francisco Giants banked so much on our Cactus League in 1959, they even built the Francisco Grande Hotel and had a practice field in Casa Grande. This hotel, with structural features that pay homage to baseball, is a must-see for fans of the sport.

Another Americana lexicon that happens to go great with baseball is hot dogs. This Arizona girl prefers the Sonoran Dog, which was invented in Tucson and is apparently catching on across the country. What makes it unique is the bacon-wrapped dog, pinto beans and jalapeño salsa.

Arizona’s foray to statehood may have come long after the United States was formed, but our impact in preserving one of the most iconic pieces of modern America, Route 66, has been embraced by the world. This is our “Liberty Bell,” a piece of American history that was once in disrepair. Bypassed by I-40, a faster super-highway, Route 66 through Arizona was vital to the depression-era development of the Western U.S.

Sure, today it’s kind of kitsch with its neon signs, diners and classic cars, but the longest continuous stretch is here in our state and it is a major tourist attraction. Thanks to proud Americans like Angel Delgadillo, the guardian angel of Route 66, it’s here to stay. Keeping Route 66 intact for future generations to follow the dust bowl trail described by Steinbeck, get their kicks on Route 66 like the Rat Pack or get their motor running because they were born to be wild with the independent spirit of an Easy Rider is our honor and privilege.