These places are such a wealth of information, education, and a place to escape from the heat or cold when visiting a national park. Here is where the entrance fee collection station, the bookstore, the museum, a fifteen minute video, and restrooms.
The plaque reads: This three story building is one of the many houses that once stood inside the compound. It was built directly against the compound wall, and was possible occupied by one large family. By looking to your right, you can see the Casa Grande and many of the orther structures within this two acre compound. Imagine the scene in the early 1300's when people are working grinding corn, cooking meals, weaving baskets, making clothing, pottery, or tending their crops. People milling about chatting and children playing.
There were many other compounds that are near the Casa Grande compound. A community plaza and ball court would be in the middle.
Part of the plaque reads:
Casa Grande was built around the 1300's and is the tallest and most massive Hohokam building known, standing 35 feet tall and containing nearly 3,000 tons of caliche. Caliche mud was piled up in layers about two feet high; bricks or blocks were not used. Notice the horizontal cracks about two feet apart across the surface of the outside walls. These cracks are seams between layers of caliche.
This structure stands as a sentinal and reminder of the granduer it represents for the people to have spent so much time to build. The building does command a lot of respect and the pride is still felt for a people to have taken such care to construct it.
This building holds a secret, but to see it you have to explore it around towards the back of the building.
It was a wonderful weekend and so we decided to go to Tucson, but then the winds were noticeably very strong on the freeway as we were driving from Phoenix. So, we just decided to cut our trip to Tucson short which is about two hours away, and just visit the Home of the Casa Grande Ruins in Coolidge (just 56 miles southeast of Phoenix, 69 miles northwest of Tucson). Arizona Hwys 87 and 287 pass through the city, and you have to veer off about 15 miles from the 10 East Freeway. Coolidge was named after the 30th US President,
We just followed the signs and at times you wonder if you are heading the right direction because there doesn’t seem to be anything anywhere. You do see signs of the Central Arizona College and we were wondering how far this college was from everything else….But eventually, you will see a large tent in the distance and actually that is where the ancient ruins of the “big house” are --- it is part of a city that belonged to the Hohokam people from 1200 AD.
Unfortunately, I forgot my National Park Pass again which have made me free for 3 adults. I think I just paid $5 each though and that was okay since any contribution for the National Park Service is a good thing.
The major part of the ruins is the Casa Grande or Big House which is situated under a huge tent – built many years before to prevent from sun and wind damage (roof looks new but it was actually built in 1932). The walls reminded me of the pylons/walls I saw in Egypt, especially with the arid desert look. It was fun walking, and jumping, around the ruins although it is not allowed to go into the big house anymore because of the fragile state of the ruins.
Truly a nice place to visit if you are interested in Native Indian ruins and love archeology.
One of the uses of Casa Grande may have been as an Observatory and calendar. Different openings in the building align with the sun and the moon at different times. The small round opening on the west wall shown here aligns with the setting sun on the Summer Solstice (the longest day of the year). Could the Hohokam have designed this to tell them when to plant and harvest? Did it have some religious significance?
Casa Grande was only one building of several in a large compound that was like a modern neighborhood. There were also at least four other compounds that made up the entire village. Casa Grande, however, was unique amongst all the compounds and villages of the Hohokam.
Casa Grande (or Great House) is the centerpiece of a Hohokam Village and was built in the 1300s. It is four stories high and 60 feet long. It took nearly 3000 tons of a concrete-like mixture of sand, clay and limestone called caliche to build this, the largest known Hohokam structure. Casa Grande received its name from early Spanish explorers like Father Eusebio Kino. When asked by the explorers who built the village the nearby Pima Indians said "Hohokam" which means "all gone". In 1892, Casa Grande became the nation's first archeological reserve.
This unexcavated mound is a prehistoric ballcourt that was probably used by the Hohokam in the 1100 to 1200 timeframe. It had room for about 12 players. Ballcourts were probably used for competitions within the village and with other villages. It is also possible the ballcourts were used for other social and religious events. A large green polished stone was found embedded in the center of the field. It is unknown what the significance of the stone may have been.
Here are some of the displays in the museum. They explain about the Hohokam and their way of life. Photo 1 shows what the archeologists believe a typical Hohokam house would look like; photo 2 shows how a pithouse (the most common Hohokam structure) is constructed; photo 3 is a Ramada. the Hohokam constructed these for outdoor activities especially during the hot summer months; photo 4 shows some Hohokam Pottery, the jar on the right is called a red on buff design and dates from the pre-Classic Period (1150 to 1300), the jar on the left is called Red Ware and is from the Classic Period (1300 to 1400); and photo 5 some pottery fragments showing the importance of animals to the Hohokam.
Your first stop will be the Visitor Center where you pay your entrance fee of 5.00 and where you can see the displays in the rather well-done museum. You can also get an informative brochure about the park, information about other area attractions, and buy gifts and souvenirs.
The ruins are from about 600 years ago and include a large multi-story structure with lots of smaller, one-story walls around it. Over the "casa grande" is a metal roof that is meant to protect it from erosion. The Hohokam people abandoned it after a few hundred years. You get to walk around the "village" and see all the structures from up close. You can't enter the large building, but are free to walk around it. Several times a day there is a guided tour by a ranger, but since no one really knows why the building was built the guided tour is pretty useless. Attached to it is a visitor center with some native american artifacts (but nothing too exciting). The entire visit probably won't take more than half an hour. The entrance fee is $5 for people over 16, free for 15 and younger. It's open 8 am to 5 pm every day (except Christmas and Thanksgiving). It really not worth going out of your way to see it, but if you're driving between Tucson and Phoenix, it might be a nice break.
One thing we can be fairly certain of, the Great House was completed in the late-Classic period of Hohokam culture, sometime around 1350. The big question though, is identifying its purposes. Some think it was for storage, others think it was a governmental or religious center of the community. There is also eveidence that it might have been a prehistoric observatory, much like Stonehenge. It has been discovered that the circular window in the upper left aligns with the setting sun on the longest day of the year, June 21, the summer solstice.
Once every 18 and a half years, the square hole on the upper right algins with the setting moon during the farthest point of its rotation. Other doorways and windows also align with the sun or moon at specific points of the year.
Bars prevent you from entering the structure (it is far to fragile to withstand the barage of constant visitation) but when you peer into the building, notice the inscriptions in the caliche walls. This graffiti is over 100 years old and was made by cowboys, Mexican vacqueros, early settlers and other visitors to the area.
The steel and concrete canopy was erected in 1932, replacing an earlier attempt to protect the ruin.
The Casa Grande National Monument has a nice picnic area, complete with grills set up across the parking lot from the Visitor Center.
They have an Interpretive Ramada on site where you can study the area and where they sometimes have lectures about Casa Grande and the Hohokam.
This is a close view of what the concrete-like mixture of sand, clay and limestone called caliche (cuh-LEE-chee) looks like.