For over a thousand years, prehistoric farmers inhabited much of the present-day state of Arizona.
When the first Europeans arrived, all that remained of this ancient culture were the ruins of villages, irrigation canals, and various artifacts. Among these ruins is the Casa Grande, or “Big House,” one of the largest and most mysterious prehistoric structures ever built in North America.
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument protects the Casa Grande and other archeological sites within its boundaries.
A giant steel awning protects what is left of the three-floor “Great House,” the largest single building left from the Hohokam culture, which thrived in the Sonoran Desert until about 1450, when it mysteriously disappeared.
The early Spanish named the Indians of southern Arizona the Pima and Papago. In their own language they are the Akimel O’Odham and the Tohono O’Odham. They may be the descendants of the Hohokam.
The building dominates the landscape—it can be spotted from at least five miles away when driving Arizona Highway 87 toward Coolidge.
Nearly 3,000 tons of caliche went into the four-story structure. The Hohokams lacked stones or other good building materials in the desert so they went a few feet down, using caliche, an underground layer of soil whose particles are cemented together by lime. Beams were hewed out of juniper, pine, and fir which were brought from the mountains more than 50 miles away.
Archaeologists believe that the “Great House” was an astronomical observatory, noting that the small round window on the west wall aligns perfectly with the setting sun on the annual summer solstice (June 21). Other openings line up with the sun and moon at significant dates throughout the year.
Archaeologists do not know all the reasons for the decline and end of Hohokam culture. Recent findings indicate that a series of devastating floods in the 1350s and 1380s may well have played a role in the breakdown of Hohokam economic and political systems.
Stop by the visitor center to get a brochure, take the self-guided tour, and stay for one of the informative talks given by a park ranger on the history of the Casa Grande ruins.
And if you peer high up into the beams, you’ll likely spot a pair of great horned owls that call the Casa Grande home.
Casa Grande Ruins is in Coolidge on State Highway 87, about 12 miles east of I-10 (Exit 185).
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.