Casa Grande National Monument ruins shed insights into primitive life in the Desert Southwest

Roughly translated, Casa Grande means great house. If you visit Casa Grande Ruins National Monument near Coolidge, AZ you’ll definitely see the “great house” and so much more.

Prior to my visit in 2019, I had seen numerous pictures of the Casa Grande Ruins site – mostly of the “great house” alone. What impressed me when I went is how expansive the entire site is and how many ruins are still present.

As I strolled the grounds, it was easy to envision a time when the location was bustling with the activity of hundreds of people.

Close up view of the "great house" at Casa Grande National Monument
Close up view of the “great house” at Casa Grande National Monument
Near view of "great house" at Casa Grande National Monument
Near view of “great house” at Casa Grande National Monument
Close up view of back side of "great house" at Casa Grande National Monument
Close up view of back side of “great house” at Casa Grande National Monument
Close up view of window and wall of the "great house"
Close up view of window and wall of the “great house” shows how the structure has deteriorated over time. Visible in the upper left corner is a beam that was added in modern times to help reinforce and preserve the structure.
Ruins of a pueblo style dwelling
Ruins of a pueblo style dwelling on the Casa Grande National Monument grounds
Ruins of a pit house on the grounds of Casa Ground National Monument
Ruins of a pit house on the grounds of Casa Grande National Monument

Archeologists have uncovered evidence that the ancient Sonoran Desert people who built the Casa Grande also developed wide-scale irrigation farming and extensive trade connections. Apparently trade went on for over a thousand years, until about 1450 A.D.

Findings include earthen buildings, red on buff pottery, and extensive canals consistent with the Hohokam people known to have inhabited this area.

According to the National Park Service website, Hohokam is an O’odham word used by archaeologists to identify a group of people who lived in the Sonoran Desert.

Based on interpretations handed down over centuries, Hohokam is believed to be a term that loosely translates into “all used up” or “those who are gone”.

photo of map on a sign at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
This map on display at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument shows the location of the site near Coolidge, AZ and its proximity to the well-traveled Anza Trail.

Another thing: there are several ruins not currently visible. That’s because they’ve been covered with dirt as a means to preserve them for future generations. The buried ruins occupy a parcel of land about one acre in size.

Casa Grande Ruins historical timeline

  • 450 to 1450 A.D. – estimated time frame Casa Grande site was inhabited by ancient Hohokam people.
  • 1694 – Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino journaled his visit to the ruins
  • 1775 – Lt. Col. Juan Bautista de Anza’s expedition records a visit to Casa Grande
  • 1883 & 1884 – Anthropologist and historian Adolph Bandelier visited the Casa Grande ruins in and reported on its condition and probable significance.
  • 1889 – Several influential Bostonians urged Massachusetts Senator George F. Hoar to present a petition before the U. S. Senate to take steps to repair and protect the ruins.
  • 1892 – President Benjamin Harrison set aside one square mile of Arizona Territory surrounding the Casa Grande Ruins as the first prehistoric and cultural reserve established in the United States.
  • 1912 – Arizona become the 48th state of the United States.
  • 1918 – President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Casa Grande Ruins to be a National Monument and management of the site was transferred to the National Park Service.
  • 1932 – New steel shelter roof built over the Casa Grande and main part of the visitor center building with adjacent parking lot and entrance road.

How Casa Grande rose to “Greatness”

As the ancient Sonoran Desert people expanded between 600 & 900 A.D., their contacts with neighboring tribes greatly increased. Trade flourished, bringing material goods and ideas from far and near.

They imported turquoise, pottery, pinyon nuts, obsidian (volcanic glass) and even sea shells from the Gulf of California and the Pacific Coast. From Mexico came copper bells, iron pyrite mirrors, and parrots.

And what did these desert dwellers have to offer in exchange? Their farms produced surplus crops for export. They also traded their finely crafted shell jewelry and pottery. Casa Grande Ruins became a crossroads in the trade system.

One major route, reconstructed by archaeologists, went from northern Mexico into the Tucson area, and from there into the Gila River Valley.

Casa Grande was abandoned around 1450. The original inhabitants left no written language behind. In his description of the large ancient structure before him, Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino wrote the words “casa grande”.

More became known about the ruins with the later visits of Lt. Col. Juan Bautistade Anza expedition in 1775 and Brig. General Stephen Watts Kearny’s military detachment in 1846.

Between the 1860’s and the 1880’s more people began to visit the ruins with the arrival of a railroad line twenty miles to the west, and a connecting stagecoach route that ran right by the Casa Grande. The resulting damage from souvenir scavenging, graffiti and outright vandalism raised serious concerns about the preservation of the Casa Grande.

Must see features at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

  • Great House
  • Numerous smaller pueblos
  • Ballcourt
  • Desert plants
  • Visitor and information center

Ready to see Casa Grande National Monument for yourself? Check out the NPS website for hours and other details. When I visited in 2019 there was no park fee or admission charge.

Tap the map below to get there

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2 Comments

  1. My Dad was born in Casa Grande in 22….10 years after AZ became a state. I was born there, too.

    I didn’t visit the ruins until I was an adult.

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