Did you know that Casa Grande Ruins is one of the largest existing historic structures in North America which purpose still remains in question. The Ruins and its’ archeological findings tell the story of an era where the people traveled great distances for a variety of reasons this Arizona region. And though Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is deemed a lesser-visited National Park, this historic significance dating back many centuries and its’ story makes it totally worth the visit.
Casa Grande translated means Great House, the ruins were once, a cultural gathering place rich in ancestral and ecological history.
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, located in a small town of Coolidge, Arizona, is a great smaller park to learn how the people traveled, lived and survived the barren desert environment.
Let’s see why you should put this Casa Grande Ruins on your bucket list!
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Why Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is Well Worth the Visit
History of how Casa Grande Ruins was formed
Casa Grande Ruins is one of the largest existing historic structures in North America. But, its’ purpose remains question.
More than 650 years ago, the Casa Grande region was an incredibly fertile region in southern Arizona.
The Ancestral Sonoran Desert People deemed it as their farming community because of the location’s water sources that led to them building irrigation canals.
Through years of extensive research, archeologists conclude that the Ancestral Sonoran Desert People built their community due to the location’s rich fertile soils and the abundance of water sources.
The natives painstakingly hand-dug an impressive Hohokam irrigation canal system that would aid in sustaining their farming and artistic livelihoods.
The Ancestral Sonoran Desert People would erect earthen buildings and walls; creating their own compound that lasted for centuries. And small remnants of those walls and structures remain today.
Also known as the Hohokam Indians, they dressed very simple using animal hides and woven fibers from plants for their breechcloths.
In the winter, they dressed in heavier buckskins, woven blankets and cloths. And because of the desert terrain, they made sandals to protect their feet.
The Hohokams were farmers; growing cotton, beans, squash and corn.
But the Ancestral Sonoran Desert People were amazing artists and craftsmen. The local crafters would handcraft pottery out of the Tucson Basin clay. They would mine for minerals to grind pigments into a fine powder to make their slips and paint.
However, it still remains unclear why the Ancestral Sonoran Desert People tribe up and left the region.
There is evidence that a drought period forced them disperse and relocate. Which explains why the structures were left to abandonment.
Since there’s no written records or evidence of their evacuation, scientists and historians estimate the Ancestral Sonoran Desert People left Casa Grande about 1450 C.E.
Today, all that remains are the Casa Grande Ruins.
Casa Grande Ruins RE-Discovered
In the late 1600’s, Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino happened upon the Casa Grande ruins. In his travel journal, he describes the remaining large ancient structure as Casa Grande, Spanish for great house.
Once word got out about his findings, visitors flocked to explore the region including Lieutenant Colonel Juan Bautista de Anza, who set out on his own expedition to find it.
Then, three quarters of a century later in 1846, a military detachment led by Brigadier General Stephen Watts Kearny came upon the Ruins.
After several prominent explores made their own discoveries, it didn’t take long after for the word to get out.
Public interest and visitors began to check it out for themselves. But, this ended up becoming a double-edge sword.
✰✰ CASA GRANDE RUINS FUN FACT ✰✰ In 1833, Brigadier General Stephen Watts Kearny was deemed Father of the United States Cavalry.
Casa Grande Ruins abandoned and vandalized
By the 1880’s, because of the nearby railroad construction twenty miles afar and stagecoach route, mindless visitors took to desecrating the Ruins. Visitors dug up artifacts. And for jollies, they carved their names or messages into the red adobe structures.
They surely didn’t follow the leave no trace principles.
This became a serious cause for concern. A few short years later, traveling historian and anthropologist Adolph Bandelier wore in his journal of what he saw; reporting his displeasure of his findings.
Because of that, a group of prominent Bostonians stepped forward to preserve this important historical site.
A petition was sent before the U.S. Senate in 1889 requesting protection and preservation of the Casa Grande Ruins.
Under the Presidency of Benjamin Harrison, repair and restoration of the Ruins was established. This was the U.S. government’s first cultural reserve and prehistoric restoration.
Casa Grande Ruins becomes a National Monument
In 1901, restoration was in full order and the management and overseeing the project was transferred to the General Land Office. Two years later, a roof structure was built directly over the big house structure to protect it from the weather elements. Major repairs and excavation would continue.
Then, in 1918, President Woodrow Wilson put in a proclamation deeming Casa Grande Ruins a National Monument. It was was then, transferred to the National Park Service for preservation management and education.
Preserving Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
Since the inception of this incredible preservation of what the Ancestral Sonora Desert People left behind, multiple restoration projects continue.
In the 1930’s and 1940’s, adobe buildings to support the monument park were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Now listed in the National Register of Historic Places, they remain today and little has changed since then.
The visitor center building and a newer steel shelter roof over the Casa Grande Ruins Great House was erected to protect the ruins. Roads and walkways were paved and beautification projects began.
Casa Grande Ruins today
Drawing less than 70,000 visitors annually, Casa Grande Ruins National Monument continues to decline in visitation numbers. That could be, in part, due to its’ remote location.
But, the National Park Service continues their research, interpretive programs and preservation of the Ruins and grounds for present and future generations to enjoy and learn. Scientists, Archeologists and Anthropologists continue their studies, collecting artifacts and cataloging their finds.
But Casa Grande Ruins National Monument isn’t just about the Ruins and the People who once inhabited the region.
Biologists and Environmental Scientists monitor everything inside the National Monument property; including the environment to the groundwater leading to it. They also study the plants and wildlife within the park.
Visiting Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
Where is Casa Grande Ruins National Park?
Casa Grande Ruins is located at 1100 W. Ruins Drive in the town of Coolidge, Arizona. Their contact number is (520) 723-3172.
Admission to Casa Grande Ruins
Admission to Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is FREE!
If you’re bringing a group of 15 or more people (Schools, Home or Roadschoolers, etc. ), group leaders will need to make an advance tour reservation.
Do note, because the Ruins is now a free park, it is no longer possible for visitors to purchase any National Park pass at this park.
Weather at Case Grande Ruins
Casa Grande Ruins is in the arid desert environment. When visiting the region, prepare for the weather in the region.
Spring and fall are warm and dry, with highs in the 80’s and 90’s. So, plan accordingly for clothing and hydration. Winter temperatures range from the 60’s to the 80’s.
During summer months, be prepared for extremely hot temperatures that frequently exceed 100 degrees in the daytime.
The average annual rainfall at Casa Grande Ruins is 8 to 10 inches which half falls during the winter months. The other half falls during the thunderstorm season in July and August.
Regardless of time of year, wear protective clothing and sunscreen to protect your skin and head.
We also highly recommend you hydrate well before arriving and during your visit. It’s a good idea to bring a full bottle of water. If you’re going to be hiking or exploring for a lengthy time period, a high-capacity hydration pack is a good idea, especially in the warmer months.
Can you park your RV at Casa Grande Ruins?
The main visitor parking area includes a large area specifically marked for parking large RVs, busses, and vehicles towing trailers.
The parking area is large and generally provides sufficient maneuvering space for even large motorhomes and towed vehicles without disconnecting.
However, there is NO overnight parking within the park boundaries.
Can you take your pets to Casa Grande Ruins?
Visitors may bring pets, however, they must be on a 6′ leash (or less). And, it’s required to clean up after them. There’s a pet walking area located in the picnic area.
Also, pet owners are not permitted to leave them in any vehicle; even with the air conditioner running.
Visitors can bring a cooler lunch to enjoy at Casa Grande Ruins picnic area near the parking lot. There’s a few picnic tables with shade.
Also, visitors can dispose of your trash and recyclable plastic at the park’s collection stations; located at both shelter areas.
Large groups may reserve the park’s outdoor kitchen. Otherwise reservations for single family visits are not needed.
Casa Grande Ruins visitors are welcome to use the public restrooms located at the front of the Casa Grande Ruins visitor center.
Things to do at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
Take a guided tour
Casa Grande Ruins provides a 30-minute interpretive tours each day from November and into April. Tours are conducted outdoors on level ground along a 500 yard, wheelchair accessible path.
Our tour guide talked about the Hohokam culture, archeology and the basic history of the Ruins. The park guide also took us on a tour of the grounds, the historic ruins and structures.
Park visitors can also take a self-guided tour during normal operating hours. Interpretive wayside signs are distributed throughout the visitor area and provide a good overview of the prehistoric Casa Grande community and its original inhabitants.
Hiking at Casa Grande Ruins
Hiking at Case Grande Ruins will provide you cool experiences. From a distance, the grounds appear as an inhospitable dry environment.
Had we known, we would have signed up for a backcountry archeology hike (more like a walk). But if it is of interest to you and your family, contact the park office in advance as there is a limited number in the tour.
However, the grassy and spiny desert floors are home to a variety of species of plants and animals. But to see wildlife requires distance and takes patience and quiet.
Don’t expect to see them up close or in a short period of time. You’ll have to train your eye to see what lives on the desert floor. We highly recommend bringing a good pair of binoculars and your camera!
But, we caution you to be aware of rattlesnakes and other desert animals that could harm you if disturbed or threatened.
Casa Grande Ruins Museum
We highly recommend taking time to visit the museum in the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument visitor center.
There’s an array of period artifacts and educational placards showing how the Ancestral Sonoran Desert People lived. You can also view the video in the small auditorium.
They also offer lectures and tours. For more updated information, check out the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument News Releases.
✰✰ PRO TIP ✰✰ Did you know that Casa Grande Ruins National Monument also offers distant learning for those who can’t get there in person? It’s a great program for teachers, homeschoolers, and those who roadschool.
Bookstore and Gift Shop
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument also has a small book store and gift shop to pick up a souvenir or two.
Don’t forget to bring your National Park Service Passport to get your date stamp showing your visit.
Junior Ranger Program at Casa Grande Ruins
Families and kids are welcome to visit and learn how the people who once flourished here lived and survived.
Kids of all ages can learn about this cool place, view the museum exhibits, examine the touch table and watch the video.
And, they can see up close, the incredible structures that have survived the test of time.
Kids can also earn their official Casa Grande Ruins National Monument Junior Ranger Badge by completing the program.
✰✰ PRO TIP ✰✰ If your child is a 4th grader, your family can see America’s natural wonders and historic sites for free through the NPS Every Kid Outdoors program!
Wrapping up your visit to Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
We hope our experience entices you to visit Casa Grande National Monument. Though this National Park is relatively small in size, it’s definitely a piece of America that’s worth exploring.
More cool National Monuments and Historic Places you should visit!