Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Photo above: Great House at Casa Grande under the canopy built in the 1930's to protect it, 2004, John Dodds. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Right: Front door of the structure, 1937, John P. O'Neill, Historic American Buildings Survey. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

It was the first of its kind when designated on June 22, 1892 by President Benjamin Harrison, an attempt by the United States to protect the heritage and structures of the desert southwest Indian tribes. The Great House of the Hohokam Pueblo people, built prior to 1450 A.D., was one of the largest examples of a desert bed home structure. Today, it's protected by a huge canopy to keep the sun from its adobe and keep the building as intact as possible from the elements. The park itself is small, under five hundred acres, but the heritage here, as well as the experience in the interpretation of the rangers and the Visitor Center movie and exhibits should not be missed. But it does get missed these days too often, with just over sixty thousand visitors most years. Don't be one of those national park visitors to Arizona who miss the first example of heritage preservation of Indian culture. You won't be disappointed. Well, at least most won't be.

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Casa Grand Ruins

Casa Grande Then

During the Hohokam period of the Pueblo Indian tribes of the Arizona landscape, a compound wall and structures were built for the families who farmed the Gila Valley. Farming, however, with residences in one place, was a relatively new phenomenon for the Sonoran Desert people, perhaps eight hundred to one thousand years old. They had lived in the area since 5,500 B.C.

Although we sometimes think of the structures of the indigenous peoples of the southwest United States as solely living in cliff dwellings, there were desert based communities as well. The Great House is the largest, four stories, example of the buildings at Casa Grande, but there are more remnants at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument than just that one building. It is the most impressive. Surviving seven centuries, the Great House has outer rooms around an interior structure. Jesuit missionary Father Eusebio Kino was the first European to discover Casa Grande, and name it, in 1694.

Photo above: The Florence Stage, South Side of the Great House, 1888-9. Courtesy National Park Service. Below: Casa Grande Great House in current times, 2006, Greg Hume. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Casa Grande Ruins Great House

Casa Grande Now

Due to the foresight of President Harrison in 1892, and Woodrow Wilson's elevation of the site to National Monument status in 1918, today, you can visit that Great House, and walk around the structure, just where the Pueblo people walked. Part of the reason why the Great House has stood that test of time was the ramada (canopy) built over it in 1932 by Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr., the son of the famed landscape architect, who with his brother continued the legacy into structures such as the Biltmore Estate and national park projects. You can not go inside the Great House.

There is a Visitor Center built in 1937 that includes a movie and exhibits. Rangers will take you on a guided tour around not only the Great House, but other structures. At one time, there was a ball court here that rivaled the one at Pueblo Grande de Nevada.

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Casa Grande Ruins

Casa Grande Ruins

Things You Should Not Miss

1. Take a ranger guided tour to the Great House. They'll tell you a whole lot about the structure, the Hohokam culture, and lots more. Unfortunately, you can't enter the Great House any longer, in order to protect it.

2. Orient yourself with the twenty-two minute film in the Visitor Center. It will give you a good heads-up on what you'll see once you enter the historic area.

3. Don't forget to look at the nature all around you. Depending on the time of year of your visit, the blooms of the desert cactus are a wonderful, calming addition to the history you'll be predominantly seeing here.

Photo above: One of two images of the Great House at Casa Grande, circa 1870, Carlo Gentile. Courtesy Library of Congress.

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