Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Casa Grande Ruins

The Casa Grande Ruins are located 30 miles west of our RV Park at Picacho Peak. We discovered them by accident when we noticed a National Park sign on I-10 as we were driving to the grocery store. A 20 minute detour to Coolidge took us to the Visitor Center and to the ruins beyond it.

We arrived just in time for the last volunteer led tour of the day and were glad to participate in it to hear the stories and personal details that bring a place to life. 
Our Minnesota born docent was happy to point out that ribs of the Saguaro tree form a natural hockey stick.

A Saguaro Hockey Stick
The ruins of Casa Grande (the Great House) have stood since approximately 1350. It is the largest known structure of the Ancestral People of the Sonoran Desert. There is archeological evidence that a vibrant culture lived here farming and irrigating nearby fields with a large system of interconnected canals. Casa Grande was a trading center too, sitting along a natural route between California and the great plains with relatively easy access to the Colorado plateau region and what is now northern Mexico. Remains of copper bells and jewelry have been found here as well as shells from the Gulf of California and flint from the great plains region.

Adobe covered caliche was used as building material.

Squash, beans and corn were grown near Casa Grande as food crops. Cotton and Agave for garments. 

Agave needles like this were used as threaded needles to fasten hides together.
Tobacco was grown and probably traded. The desert provided fruit from the Saguaro and Prickly Pear. Other plants and cacti were collected as a food source and for their medicinal properties. The nearby Salt and Gila Rivers were full then and provided fish, waterfowl and turtles.

The great house was 4 stories high.
The Great House itself is an impressive structure measuring 60 feet long and 4 stories high. They appear shorter in our photos as several feet of fill has been added at the base to stabilize the foundations. The building material is caliche covered by adobe. Caliche is a concrete like mix of desert sand, clay and limestone that lies under the desert surface. It was up and cut into brick shapes, set into place and mudded over. The base of the Great House is 4 feet thick and gradually tapers to about 12 inches at the top. Wall anchors made of whole trees gave the building stability and the roof was supported by ribs of the Saguaro cactus.
There are several smaller structures as well as a game court on the grounds that are maintained by the National Park Service. Portions of a boundary wall are recognizable.

Walls of an outbuilding.

The story of Casa Grande Ruins is pretty amazing. They are the countries first archeological preserve, achieving that status in 1892. Spanish missionaries documented Casa Grande in 1694. By that time it was already a ruin having been abandoned at some point in the 1400's.
There were few european visitors to the region before the railroad reached the nearby town in 1879. At that point the ruins became a tourist destination where visitors carved their names in the side of the great hall and carried away chunks of the building as souvenirs. Enterprising merchants with shops at the site even rented out picks and shovels to make it easier for them to do so.

We were pleasantly surprised to discover that a pair of Great Horned Owls roost in the rafters of Casa Grande's protective cover. 
They had a perfect vantage point for hunting the pigeons, lizards and small creatures that roam the desert at night. 

Casa Grande National Monument
1100 W. Ruins Dr
Coolidge, AZ

1 comment:

  1. I'm always a bit 'on the fence' on having a structure built over something like Casa Grande. Still, that's a cool find, Bonnie!