Coolidge, AZ

Casa Grande Ruins continue to mystify visitors and experts

Timothy Rawles
Casa Grande Ruins National ParkPhoto byNational Park Service: U.S. Department of the Interior

By Timothy Rawles / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ

Casa Grande Ruins is a mysterious prehistoric village located in Coolidge. This large primitive area has been around since 1350 C.E. It’s one of the largest ever built in North America.

Archeologists are somewhat baffled by its existence because there is no written history of its origins or the Sonoran people who lived there.

It wasn’t until 1694 when Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino happened upon the ancient site that he called it “Casa Grande,” which translated means: big, or great house.

Eighty years after Kino’s discovery, Lt. Col. Juan Bautista de Anza visited the spot, and in 1846 Brig. Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny and his troops found the ruins. As people became more curious, and the land wasn’t protected at the time, vandals took their toll; the old landmark was in danger of being decimated.

A busy railroad and stagecoach route didn’t help. They brought in careless people who took more than they left causing conservators concern. With the help of philanthropy and historians, in 1892 Casa Grande and the mile-wide section of land surrounding it was deemed prehistoric, making the ruins the first cultural reserve in the United States.

Frank Pinkley became the first custodian of the land in 1901. Several repairs were made, and cultural archeologists studied the ruins extensively. In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed that the Casa Grande Ruins were an official national monument and under government conservatorship. Still, Pinkley remained as the custodian.
Musician Arvel Bird walks past the Great House on the way to the stage during the American Indian Arts Fest of 2013.Photo byRonnie Ziemba, photographer, for Friends of Casa Grande Ruins

Today the park is open to the public and remains pretty much as it was in the 1940s after a visitor’s center and parking lot were installed. The visible shelter over Casa Grande, the highest tower in the lot, was also built at that time.

Many have read that the ruins were inhabited by the Hohokam, which archeologists say is a general cultural term and has nothing to do with an actual tribe since that word isn’t a part of any native vernacular. It’s still unclear which tribe, or people, lived in the small desert community. One theory is that it was the Ancestral Sonoran Desert People (mistakenly called Hohokam).

Since this time in history is uncharted, experts are unsure whether the Desert People were related to any local tribe in the familial or political sense.

Archeologists found a wide-scale irrigation system at Casa Grande. These waterways were used to grow crops of corn, tobacco, beans, and cotton. This agricultural engineering spread to surrounding villages across central and southern Arizona. Trade connections made between the villages lasted over a thousand years.

If you are visiting the monument, the first thing you will notice is the “Great House” towering into the Sonoran Desert sky. This centerpiece is nearly four stories high, and experts are still not sure what it was used for.

Some speculate that it was a place of worship. It has an open layout interior where one center room is surrounded by several smaller rooms. The center hub is four stories tall, while the outlying rooms are only three stories.

Visitors walking into the outside compound also may notice a large section of space that resembles an arena. It is believed that the Sonoran People adopted a sport from the Mesoamerican culture, it utilized a hard rubber ball thrown between two teams.
The Casa Grande and Compound A aerial view circa 1926-1927. (CG-0606)Photo byNational Park Service

The Casa Grande Ruins are a part of Arizona’s prehistoric past that gives a little insight into what the desert and its people were like nearly seven centuries ago. Considered the desert heartland with a thriving agricultural society, Casa Grande continues to perplex visitors and archeologists alike.

The Casa Grande Ruins are located at 1100 West Ruins Drive, Coolidge.

Admission is free, and it is open to the public 7 days a week. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For more information visit the Casa Grande Ruins website.

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Timothy Rawles has been a journalist for over 20 years. He has written for global publications in San Francisco, San Diego, and Phoenix. His favorite stories are features, interviews, entertainment news, and local stories.

San Tan Valley, AZ

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