Casa Grande Ruins is one of the largest existing historic structures in North America who’s purpose remains in question. It and the archeological finds tell the story of an era where the people traveled great distances for different reasons. And though Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is a lesser-visited National Park because of its’ size and location, its’ historic importance that dates back many centuries totally makes it 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 particular National Monument on your bucket list!
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Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
|LOCATION: 1100 W. Ruins Drive, Coolidge , AZ 85128|
|PHONE CONTACT: 520 723-3172|
How Casa Grande Ruins came to be
Casa Grande Ruins is one of the largest existing historic structures in North America who’s 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. They 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. Since, 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.
HISTORY 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.
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 as a National Monument. It was was then, transferred to the National Park Service for preservation management and education.
Preserving Casa Grande 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 Casa Grande Ruins Great House was erected to protect the ruins. Roads and walkways were paved and beautification projects began.
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument 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.
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument General Info
Admission to the Park
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 Casa Grande 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, know the weather during the summer months are incredibly hot. During the spring and fall months, it still gets a bit warm, so plan accordingly for clothing and hydration. Wear protective clothing to protect your skin and head. And, consider sunscreen on exposed skin.
We 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, a Camelbak with a higher water capacity is essential, especially in the warmer months.
Also be aware of the wind. Oftentimes, desert dust can impair vision and driving.
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 are not needed.
Casa Grande Ruins visitors are welcome to use the public restrooms located at the front of the visitor center.
Reasons to visit Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
Take a guided tour
While we were visiting, we enjoyed an hour-long guided tour and lecture. Our tour guide talked about the Hohokam culture, archeology and the basic history of the Ruins. The guide also took us on a tour of the grounds, the historic ruins and structures.
Had we known, we would have signed up for a backcountry archeology hike (more like a walk). But if is of interest, visitors can contact the park office in advance as there is a limited number in the tour.
Unfortunately, due to safety and continuing preservation, the staff and volunteers do not offer Great House tours.
UPDATE (2022)! Currently, guided tours are not available. Groups, especially school classes, need to call in advance. Visitors can still explore via a self-guided tour that consists of a short walk around the Casa Grande following wayside signs.
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. However, the grassy and spiny desert floors are home to a variety of species of plants and animals.
But to see them 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. Bring a good pair of binoculars and your DSLR camera!
Be aware of rattlesnakes and other desert animals that could harm you if disturbed or threatened. And remember to stay on the designated trails or walkways. And always practice good hiking trail etiquette and follow the Leave No Trace principle.
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 information, check out the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument News Releases.
NATIONAL PARK 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.
Families & Junior Rangers
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.
And, the kids can earn their official Casa Grande Ruins National Monument Junior Ranger Badge by completing the program.
NATIONAL PARK PRO TIP: Hey parents and teachers of 4th graders! See America’s natural wonders and historic sites for free through the NPS Every Kid Outdoors program!
Final thoughts on visiting 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.
TRAVEL PRO TIP: Check out other National Parks and Monuments we recommend.
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