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Casa Grande Ruins ~ A Mystery in the Desert

Posted by on March 18, 2014

Casa Grande National Monument:

2014 photo of Casa Grande monument

Casa Grande Monument

 

We have often wanted to visit this National Monument over the past few years. Since we were parked in nearby Eloy, we finally took a day to wander through this unusual site and visitor center.  Park passes are accepted here and dogs too as long as they can be carried through the visitor center. (No dog feet on the floor until you reach the compound in the back)

From Eloy to the Casa Grande Ruins is about 20 miles. This is a National Monument which preserves the remains of an ancient Hohokam-era farming village, and the “Great House”

After a long battle with the desert, this ancient building still commands respect. Four stories high and 60 feet long, with a platform mound filling the first floor, it is the largest known structure of the Ancestral People of the Sonoran Desert. It was named by the early Spanish explorers ~ Casa Grande (“Great House”)

Its walls face the cardinal points of the compass. A circular hole in the upper west wall aligns with the setting sun at the summer solstice. Other openings align with the sun and moon at specific times.

National Park Historical Photos:

 

1880 Photo of Casa Grande

1880 Photo by Ed Schieffelin of Tomstone

Ariel View Casa Grande

1926 – 1927 Arial View of Casa Grande and Compound

 

circa 1926 West side of the Casa Grande - Nat'l Parks Photo

circa 1926 West side of the Casa Grande – Nat’l Parks Photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who were these people to watch the sky to purposefully? One archeologist who studied the Ancestral People called them the “First Masters of the American Desert” They would irrigate their fields by building a vast canal system that diverted the water from the rivers. In areas without year-round streams, they tapped groundwater or diverted storm runoff.

 

 

This is an artist’s depiction of the Casa Grande(“Great House”) and its surrounding compound as it may have appeared around 1350 C.E. One of the largest prehistoric structures ever built in North America, its purpose remains a mystery.

Artist drawing of compound

Artist depiction of compound 1350 C.E

 

This era lasted until the 1400’s, when the Hohokam culture ebbed throughout the region. By the time the missionaries arrived in 1694, they found only an empty shell of the once flourishing village of the Casa Grande.

 

During the 1860’s through the 1880’s more people began to visit the ruins with the arrival of a railroad line twenty miles to the west and a connecting stagecoach route that ran right by the Casa Grande. The resulting damage from souvenir hunting, graffiti and outright vandalism raised serious concerns about the preservation of the Casa Grande.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument was the first cultural and prehistoric site to be protected by the United States government. It was set aside in 1892 by President Benjamin Harrison.  To this day the Great House keeps the secrets of its people within its walls.

The Casa Grande Ruins were extensively excavated and studied by Dr. Jesse Fewkes in 1906. Previously, visitors removed artifacts and took pieces of the walls and roofs as souvenirs.

Later in 1918 President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Casa Grande to be a National Monument.

 

re-enactment at casa grande

Park Photo re-enactment

 

 

This is how it looks today. We spent an afternoon on the grounds and in the Visitor Center.  Parking is free and the visitor center accepts park passes.  Dogs are allowed on the grounds, however you must be able to carry your dog through the visitor center and out to the compound. (No dog feet on the floor until you are out the door)  Check their website for hours of operation. I believe they will be closing April and May of 2014.  The Ruins and movie theater will remain open and no fees will be collected during that time.

Casa Grande Ruins Sign

South Wall Casa Grande

Mark and Lily in front of the South Wall

 

 

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The wall of a room in the compound

The wall of a room in the compound

 

I often wondered why the town was named Casa Grande and now I know. The ruins, however, are  located in the town of Coolidge, Arizona and not in the town of Casa Grande. Another Mystery. I suppose the city limits were changed over the years.

Casa Grande was established in 1879 during the mining boom and by 1890 was nearly abandoned. It revived itself with the advent of agriculture and remains an active community today.

Don’t miss this National treasure if you are anywhere near Casa Grande, Arizona.

 

After our trip out to the ruins we returned to Eloy. Directly across from where we are camped, the Las Colinas RV Park ,is a family owned restaurant named EVA’s. It’s the one at 7087  Sunland Gin Road, Eloy. Good Mexican food and very cold beers. It’s just a few blocks off the I-8 exit 200 to the North. This is their original location. They also have another restaurant in Casa Grande. Worth stopping but the parking lot at this location does not accommodate RV’s larger than a class C.

 

 

Next stop Tucson Mountain Park area.

 

 

 

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