After a miserable Saturday spent indoors with a blinding headache (a fitting description as it was caused by having my eyes dilated that morning), I knew I had to get out and enjoy the sunshine on Sunday. So I picked up my camera for the first time in way-too-long and headed out to do some exploring. I’ve driven past the signs for Casa Grande Ruins National Monument along I-10 many times, but this was my first stop. I had some vague idea of what the attraction was, but I was much more impressed than I anticipated. It was a perfect way to spend a beautiful, sunny Arizona day (smile).
Casa Grande Ruins is, as the name implies, a grand house built by the Hohokam and believed to be in use in the 1300s. By the mid-1400s the house and surrounding compound were mysteriously abandoned. Written historic accounts of the Casa Grande begin with the journal entries of Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino when he visited the ruins in the late 1600s. In his description of the large, ancient structure before him, he wrote the words “casa grande” or “large house,” a term still used today.
The Casa Grande is a part of a much larger complex, which was completely surrounded by 7-foot walls. Almost all of the structures were made of a concrete-like substance found in the area called caliche. The Casa Grande itself is the tallest and most massive Hohokam building known, standing 35-feet tall and containing nearly 3,000 tons of caliche.
Other homes in the compound were much smaller, casting mystery on the Casa Grande. The exact purpose of this structure is unknown, although there are many theories, one of which is that it may have been an observatory of sorts. The small circular window in the upper left portion of the wall aligns with the setting sun on summer solstice, the longest day of the year. The square whole in the upper right aligns once every 18.5 years with the setting moon at an extreme point in its cycle. Other windows and doorways in the upper part of the building also align with the sun and moon at significant times of the year. In essence, this structure, much like Stonehenge, may have served as a sort of astronomical observatory and calendar.
The Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is located in Coolidge, Arizona about an hour from either Phoenix or Tucson. It can be a bit of a drive, but it’s well worth it. The National Monument is open every day of the year except Thanksgiving and Christmas from 9am to 5pm. Admission for adults is $5, but the guided tour (should you choose to participate) is included.
Just as I was getting ready to head out, I happened to overhear one of the rangers pointing something out to a small group. Curious, I joined the group to find this surprise waiting! Apparently, there are a couple of owls that nest in the building and overhead structure. So cool!
Fact: National Parks are established only by an act of Congress; National Monuments can be created by Presidential Executive Orders.