The Ancestral Sonoran people known as the Hohokam once numbered as many as 50,000 people around what is now Phoenix. With this large population came expansive civilization with multiple large communities or pueblos. With petroglyphs being part of the Taliesin West experience, I am interested in learning more about the people and culture that left them there.
I’ve written about Pueblo Grande before, the place archeologists consider the central village for this people. There are ruins of other large communities too including Mesa Grande and Casa Grande. The latter of these has been protected as a National Monument for nearly a century mostly because of one structure that sort of dwarfs other Ancient Sonoran ruins. They call it the Big House or Casa Grande.
The site boasts many remnants of structures and ball courts. Of course the reason isn’t known why there was such a large community there or what really happened, though this site does give a better reason than the others I’ve visited attributing the abandonment to a 50-year drought that would have forced an agricultural people to find another place to live.
The crowning piece of the monument is a large, multi-story structure that is under a pavilion cover. The cover was put over the large house decades ago as a way to preserve the dirt structure, but it kind of ruins the ruins even in the effort to preserve them. It’s as if we were to take big awning to cover the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. You can also see pieces of various restoration efforts over the decades as materials were replaced, rods and supports installed and more.
Researchers don’t know the purpose of this large structure. Some hypotheses include an observatory, a religious structure, a government structure, or a home of a wealthy family.
Inside the visitor center is a display about the ruins, theories behind the culture and meanings, and artifacts found at the site. There’s also a short film that introduces guests to the place and its people using members of the current tribal group that call this region home. They discuss the people they consider their ancestors and tell about the culture and life of Casa Grande.
A visit to Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is a quick one unless they have a special event or you choose to have a picnic at their great big picnic area (this is where the overlook is to see ball court remnants). All-in-all, it is a piece of the story of Arizona’s not-so-ancient people that is worth a quick visit. You can reach the park easily from Interstate 10, but don’t go to the town of Casa Grande (pronounced very un-Spanish sounding). The monument (pronounced properly) is actually located in Coolidge.