Skip to main content

The Demise of the Virtual Arizona Experience

You arrived at this blog post because you are interested in the Virtual Arizona Experience web environment, which served as a multi-media window into the landscapes, natural resources, cultures, people and history of Arizona for the past 7 years. All good things must come to an end, or perhaps morph into something new.

There have been no dedicated funds to maintain or update the Virtual Arizona Experience for several years, so the site has been slowly deteriorating (broken URLs; malfunctioning maps, and videos that would not load). Thus, we made the difficult decision to pull down the Arizona Experience.  

Origin of the virtual Arizona Experience Museum
The Virtual Arizona Experience Museum was officially launched by Governor Jan Brewer on 14 February 2012 to celebrate Arizona’s Centennial. The virtual museum was a substitute for the Arizona Centennial Museum planned for the ~ 30,000 square-foot Polly Rosenbaum Building (former home of the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum) on the Capitol Mall in Phoenix. Governor Brewer’s team initially envisioned a physical museum spotlighting Arizona’s 5Cs - copper, citrus, cotton, cattle and climate - and their roles in shaping today’s Arizona. Unfortunately, the Great Recession of 2008 curtailed fund-raising and just 30% of the estimated $15M needed for building the centennial museum was pledged.

Arizona Geological Survey (AZGS) and the Virtual Arizona Museum. In November 2011, Governor Brewer’s staff asked Lee Allison, State Geologist and Director of the Arizona Geological Survey, if the Survey would take on an 18-month project to design and build the virtual museum. There was one hitch, the museum website had to be available to the public in time for the centennial in three months. After consulting with AZGS staff, Lee agreed to the project.  

The Arizona Experience webpage launched on 14 Feb. 2012 with the Lands and Celebration theme. The concept was to roll out new themes every month for a year, with web themes organized under five principal areas: Land | People | Remember | Innovate | Teachers.

Monsoon storm in southern Arizona
Monsoon storm in southern Arizona. VAE monsoon module was particularly popular.

Mining & Minerals rolled out in March followed by Biotech, Energy, Water, etc.… . The final web theme, the 21st Century Workforce, was issued in Feb. 2013. Infrequent updates, new features, and site improvements continued through 2014.

At its apex, the Virtual Arizona Experience was attracting 18,000 visitors monthly. Site content was rich in original videos, interactive maps, interviews, topical features, sparse curricula, and hundreds of images. Content providers from municipal, county, state, tribal and federal government, industry, academia, and businesses statewide shared their digital data.  

Among some of the favorite features: ‘Arizona Monsoon’, Arizona Volcanoes – an interactive map, and Hohokam Canals: Prehistoric Engineering’ with an original video of Dr. Jerry Howard excavating a Hohokam canal.  

Funding & Support. Freeport McMoRan was the principal financial sponsor providing ~ $500,000 for content and website development. Other sponsors included: Helios Education Foundation, Microsoft Research, and ESRI.  

The Future. Some of the web content from the Arizona Virtual Experience will likely be incorporated into a new website associated with the Mining, Minerals, Natural Resources, and Education Museum. This will be an exciting, interactive museum in the Polly Rosenbaum Building focused on the importance of natural resources to the State of Arizona. The UA has begun refurbishing the building and will be developing a website in the near future to complement and showcase the museum.


We thank the 100s of individuals from the 265 content providers for generously sharing their digital ‘piece’ of the Arizona pie. This website could not have been built without their support. And, of course, we thank the 100,000s of individuals who visited the site. We hope they benefitted from it.

AZGS Staff Contributors 2011-2014 (in alphabetical order)

M. Lee Allison         Pam Barry-Santos        
Randi Bellassai      Arnie Bermudez     
Ryan Clark              Mike Conway
Rowena Davis        Janel Day
Stephanie Mar        Jordan Matti
Kim Patten    


Posted by AZGS Staff