Just a few minutes from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport is a unique, mostly outdoor museum unlike any in another major U.S. city. Spend an hour walking around the Pueblo Grande Museum and you’ll quickly appreciate how the ancestral Hohokam Indians were able to thrive in the hot desert region now known as Phoenix.
Pueblo Grande was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964 by the National Park Service. The facility includes a 2/3 mile (1 km) outdoor interpretive trail exploring an 800-year-old Hohokam platform mound, a ballcourt, native plant garden and replicated homes. Three exhibit galleries and a theater feature the ancient site of Pueblo Grande, archaeological methods, and changing exhibits of Southwestern themes.
For the Hohokam, Pueblo Grande was clearly a preeminent place. The time and labor they invested here indicates this was not an ordinary village. The location and size of the village, and the presence of the platform mound and ballcourts, point to this importance. Though the ultimate fate of the Hohokam remains a question – archaeologists believe floods may have played a role – the story of Pueblo Grande tells us of a fascinating period in time here.
It is believed that the platform mound was built by the Hohokam over a period of three centuries beginning almost 1,000 years ago. The Hohokam live at the site of Pueblo Grande continuously for nearly ten centuries, and the platform mound became the central structure for a village of more than 1,500 people.
When Hohokam people settled here, the Salt River flowed year round. The river banks were lined with water-loving plants. The riparian area provided food, fibers for weaving and wood for fuel and construction.
The Pueblo Grande Village once stretched nearly a mile to the north. It had a “community center” platform mound and residential “suburbs”. There is evidence that the platform mound measured about 150 feet by 300 feet – roughly the size of a football field. Total height was around 25 feet. In the remains of the structure you can see river cobbles, chunks of hardened caliche, and granite and sandstone blocks set in mortar. In the distance, you can see rooms built adjacent to the mound and portions of the rectangular compound wall that surrounded the mound.
Hohokam Pithouse Replicas
The earliest homes on the Pueblo Grande site date to AD 450. Build in shallow pits, their wood framework was covered with adobe mud. The Hohokam people arranged the one-room homes around shared courtyards.
Pithouses would have been dark; a courtyard ramada would have been an ideal place to do the day’s chores. Artisans might be found there making tools and pottery or weaving textiles. Others would grind corn into flour or gather around a cooking hearth to prepared the evening meal.
- Original structures on this site date back over 1,000 years.
- Wooden frame of mesquite or cottonwood trees
- Branches or saguaro ribs were lashed to the frame and adobe mud formed the outer shell
- Most had a hearth but no roof outlet for smoke and probably just held embers for winter heating
- Pithouses had a low entryway with a small door, probably for security
Between A.D. 750 – 1200, ballcourts served as public arenas for specialized activities that may have involved religious gatherings and market places and ball games.
When and where to visit Pueblo Grande Museum
October – April
Monday to Saturday: 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.; Sunday 1 p.m. to 4:45
May – September
Tuesday to Saturday: 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. to 4:45; Closed Sunday & Monday
- Interpretive trail closes ate 4:30 p.m. daily
- Allow 1-1/2 hours for your visit
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