Sonoran Desert & The Hohokam People : Casa Grande Ruins National Monument Arizona - in Photos

2/13/2014 06:55:00 PM

This article / travel is part of Discovering South West USA : Arizona South to North, Navajo Tribal Park & Utah... road trip. for full transcript and approximate route please visit the link.

CAsa Grande National Monument Coolidge Arizona

What did I know about Arizona before I landed in Phoenix for the first time?
That I will be seeing tall Cactus Trees, That I'd be driving though desert, and end up in the maze of red rocks and blue lake. That I might see another mountain lion or a few desert foxes.

Whenever I travel to a new ( always mostly ) place, the first thing I do is studying google maps, highways, exit-entry points, looking at image search results, reading about local flora and fauna etc. seldom I would read 10 things to do in Phoenix or its 5 Best attractions, Not my thing, nope.

My trip to Arizona and Utah last november was also in the same league. I wanted to hit Page, and surrounding area, meanwhile exploring the places in between, and randomly selecting whatsoever would interest me. The flight to Arizona was an early morning flight, ( You might have seen my tweets cribbing about airport T8 JFK ) landing in Phoenix was peaceful, but delayed and since It was already afternoon, before we could get out of the airport, we decided to head south to Tucson, and so we did but with one more reason to go south that - we might not find this area that interesting After visiting up North - I wondered. Canyons seemed more fascinating.


What season the highway stretch between Phoenix and Tucson looks best, I know not. but Its perhaps one of the busiest route through out the year. It has interesting scenic views, but for us, the first timers, driving took a toll, and we kept missing the exists. Also It did get dark by the time we reached Tucson, What we did till next morning, I'll reserve that for another post, But here we're crossing Oro Valley, heading North_west on SH 78 and 79 through country roads, and I am searching for the exact location of Casa Grande Ruins on google.

This stretch of Arizona, about 100-200 miles radius half circle with Phoenix in centre is loaded with National Monuments, historical and ruins at that. Since I was only interested in National Parks, these were mostly ignored while I was exploring the places online, and only now that I figured we're passing through a few of 'em at couple of miles diversion, so why not visit one or two, also using those as short pit-stops and coffee-breaks. Casa Grande Ruins seemed the most promising and therefore we took a left towards Coolidge, The Cotton County.

( I am skipping all the stories from the route for now, including those about Coolidge above, part of Arizona's 5C's - copper, cattle, cotton, citrus, and climate: the industry connect the state's past and present with its future. they' all deserve separate posts)

So What is Casa Grande National Monument? 

About an hour plus from either Phoenix or Tucson, Arizona, Casa Grande National Monument is an ancestral Puebloan/ Hohokam site built approximately 700 years ago by The Ancient Sonoran Desert People, Also known as the hohokam, the possible descendants of an earlier hunting and gathering “Archaic” society in this area in the beginning of 5,500 B.C.E.


Hohokam were one of the four prehistoric society of North American Indians who lived approximately from ad 200 to 1400 in the semiarid region of present-day central and southern Arizona, largely along the Gila and Salt rivers. They were an agricultural society, who developed and built a network of 1000 miles of irrigation canals network using only stone instruments and organized labor that are considered an engineering marvel and are still being used in the Phoenix area today. The agricultural system, that was supposedly enough to support more than 40000 people.

Hohokam were also famous for their intricate work with shells obtained from the Gulf of California and the Pacific coast. They created a coiled pottery finished with a paddle and painted with red designs. They retained a great deal of Mesoamerican influence as can be seen in their use of ball courts and decorative feathers. They also became entrepreneurs in a thriving trade with their neighbors, the Anasazi and the Mogollon. ( source )


Sometime around A.D.1450, the Hohokam disappeared, the society collapsed and why, after centuries of successfully cultivating the arid desert, did their society collapse? is still a mystery. There have been many competing theories including soil salinization, disease, warfare, floods, droughts, and climatic changes. None or all could be correct; all are still under investigation. ( source)

National Park Service site with more details about these people - here


The National monument of Casa Grande, has an exhibition / visitor center, and the  actual ruins "The Great House" structure,  4-story, 11-rooms caliche (a naturally occurring building material made from sand, clay and calcium carbonate) built about 700 years ago and first visited / discovered in 1694. The main part of the visitor center building with adjacent parking lot and entrance road, and a new steel shelter roof over the Casa Grande, were completed in 1932. The National Monument also includes a large structure of outlying buildings, ball courts and irrigation canals that were hand dug by the inhabitants.


various house hold items, baskets and mats and kitchen utensils made of stone.

The displays inside the visitor's center are impressive, concise and informative to say the least. The books and other materials in the gift shop are also good aid to the wealth of knowledge about the ancient people, their rich history, and society.


In this photo essay, I bring to you a glimpse of few of those exhibits, and artifacts and also the highlight of the structures. A few of the images got blurred because I it was very dark inside and I was shooting hand-held, with out flash, but I am keeping these images for information purpose, and also none of these images are post processed or corrected. they are straight out of my DSLR.


In my previous post, An Ode to the countryside I was talking about the house structures that I have observed in rural north India. I think one of the reasons I got so fascinated about casa grande, and took these shots, was because they looked so similar to what I have seen in rural India.

In Above image, is precisely how the structure called "chapper" are made in the village in Uttar Pradesh India.

IMG_0222 and actually the roof structure is no different either, Here this model, depicts the structure of a multi-story house. that however is something that looked different and unique from what I know.

  IMG_0221 Another exhibit 


The filter and other wooden items that were used. 


Tools for cooking I am guessing. 


Art exhibit 






The ancient Sonoran Desert people made shell jewelry bracelets, rings, necklaces and pendants. Some of the jewelry was inlaid with turquoise, others had designs etched into the surface. The shells were acquired from as far away as the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California.

The baskets and other items. some of these I believe are also donated to Museum.


How to reach - Google Location - here off Highway 87/287 in the town of Coolidge, Arizona. A 3/4 mile paved entrance road leads to the parking lot and the visitor center. There is dedicated parking for RVs and vehicles in tow. No camping or overnight parking. More details here 


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