Casa Grande might have been a family home, or it could have been a trade center. Perhaps it was a religious complex or an astrological observatory. The truth is that nobody knows, but a trip to this intriguing national park site will leave visitors with an admiration for the ingenuity of the Ancient Sonoran Desert People as well as a lot to wonder about.
Where is it?
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is located at 1100 W. Ruins Drive in Coolidge, Arizona, which is about a 1-hour drive from either Phoenix or Tucson. The park features:
- Visitor center
- Introductory film
- Self-guided tours of the site
- Periodic guided tours – check with the park for dates and times
- Covered picnic tables
- Free admission
Access the park’s website here.
Why is Casa Grande Significant?
Occupied from 450 AD to 1450 AD, Casa Grande is part of what was once a community of Hohokam (pronounced: hoho-kahm) people near the Gila River in south-central Arizona. In fact, archaeologists have found evidence of several similar communities in the area, though none have a structure like Casa Grande. Considered one of the largest prehistoric structures in North America, Casa Grande was built sometime between 1300 AD and 1350 AD. The site’s first recorded history comes from the journals of Jesuit priest Father Eusebio Kino, who arrived in 1694 and gave the Great House its name. Although, by that time the site had been abandoned for almost 250 years.
The people who lived in the Casa Grande community were farmers who grew gourds, corn, beans, tobacco, and cotton. Interestingly, an elaborate system of irrigation canals provided water for the crops and the people. The park also features a mound that is believed to have been a sports arena or some type of ball field used for the same type of games that are known to have been played by the Aztec people of Mexico. These unique sports fields have also been found in other area villages. Since the people who lived at Casa Grande left no evidence of a written language, little is known about them or where they went when they left the site.
The Great House
Casa Grande is built of caliche (kuh-leechee) which is a hard clay like substance made up of mud, sand and calcium carbonate and is found underneath the topsoil in dry areas such as the Sonoran Desert. Dry caliche can be as hard as concrete which is probably why the structure has survived for so many centuries.
Perhaps the Ancient Sonoran Desert People dug up the caliche while digging their irrigation canals, and then carried it to the construction site in baskets.
Archaeological evidence suggests that in addition to farming, Casa Grande’s people also made pottery, implements, and arrowheads. Archaeologists also know that the Hohokam people were traders. Known trade items include small copper bells, parrots, and crop seed that came from Mexico. Shells from California, which were used to make jewelry, have also been found. As cotton farmers, the residents of the Casa Grande community were also weavers. Woven cotton items likely would have been a prime commodity for trade.
The park’s visitor center has a wonderful museum with exhibits showing some of the pottery and implements found at Casa Grande. Between 1860 and 1880, the village was on a stagecoach route originating from a railway station about 20 miles away. Unfortunately, stage passengers who stopped at the site not only vandalized the structures, but they also collected souvenirs and scratched graffiti into the walls. We can only imagine how many priceless artifacts were pilfered before the government stepped in to protect the site.
Establishment of a Park
Archaeologists and anthropologists who visited Casa Grande in the late 1800s urged the government to repair and protect the site’s structures. Their convincing worked, and in 1889, congress voted to protect the site from further vandalism and erosion and began some repairs such as the rods and beams we mentioned previously.
Three years later, President Benjamin Harrison set aside one square mile of land surrounding the Great House as the first federally protected prehistoric and cultural preserve in the U.S. and called it Casa Grande Reservation.
President Woodrow Wilson designated Casa Grande Ruins as a national monument in 1918. An electrical powerplant, the visitor center, paved park road, and paved parking lot, as well as a new steel shelter for the Great House were all completed in 1932.
We were fortunate to have been able to join a ranger talk during our visit to the park. One of the most fascinating parts of the presentation was the history of the steel shelter. Designed by renowned architect Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr., the structure can withstand hurricane force winds and allows airflow around the structure while not obstructing visibility of the ruins. Its four slanted legs are actually drainpipes that allow water from the roof drain into underground pipes and away from the Great House. Now, that’s ingenious!
We will close the post with one more historic photo of the Great House, courtesy of the National Forest Service.
Thank you for taking the time to visit Casa Grande Ruins National Monument with us!
While you’re here, you might want to check out these other great national monuments:
Devils Tower Road Trip: Things to Do
Craters of the Moon National Monument
Safe travels, y’all!
Mike and Kellye
As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.
45 thoughts on “Casa Grande Ruins”
I haven’t been to Casa Grande since an elementary field trip eons ago, this post brought back memories and makes me want to go back. Thank you for sharing!
At playgrounds across Phoenix in the 80s and 90s (and maybe still today?), if you dug deep enough into the sand, kids would come across “indian clay” (caliche) and then build mini structures based on Casa Grande.
That would’ve been a fun field trip. We have caliche here in west Texas too, but I’ve never heard it called Indian clay. It’s a fitting moniker though. Thank you for checking out the post, Erica.
I didn’t realise a structure made from mud could last so long. This must have been a thrilling moment to stand and just absorb the time period. So very interesting. A lovely share Kellye.
It was, Sandy. Thanks so much for reading our post.
I really enjoyed this post. I had no idea such a structure existed in Arizona. Really happy the government stepped in to preserve it for future generations to admire.
Thanks for reading the post, Rochelle. It’s amazing what can be found in our national parks.
I’d not heard of the Casa Grande Ruins until reading your informative post. It must have been so interesting to explore a building created from mud.
Thank you, Marion! We did enjoy seeing the ruins.
I have heard of these ruins before, but never seen them. That is a long time for a civilization to be located in one spot. So glad the government protected the site. Thanks for sharing Kellye. Allan
Thank you, Allan!
I always love reading your post. And I had no idea some of our national parks go back so far. Do y’all do the stamps in the national parks passport? Robert and I love doing that. But we have only done the parks on the East Coast so far.
Unfortunately, we haven’t been doing the passport stamps. We’ve been to so many parks, now it would be hard to catch up, but we’ve definitely thought about it. Thanks so much for reading our post and for your very nice comment, Neal.
What an intriguing article! Casa Grande Ruins National Monument seems like a fascinating place to visit, with its rich history and unique structure. The details about the Great House, the irrigation canals, and the trading practices of the Ancient Sonoran Desert People were particularly interesting. It’s great that the site is now protected and accessible to the public. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you, Bruce.
I might’ve vaguely heard of the Casa Grande, but I had no idea where it was, nor its significance. The ruins are distinctive and stunning, definitely something I haven’t seen before during my visits to the Southwest US in the past…glad you got to visit and learn more about the place!
Thank you, Rebecca.
Amazing how long these structures have survived!
Yes, they are amazing. Thank you for checking out the post.
Another fascinating slice of Arizona history. I’m glad the government stepped in to protect this site before more damage was done. It’s amazing it’s survived so well.
Thank you, Sarah.
I’ve never heard of Casa Grande but it sounds fascinating. We don’t give these ancient civilizations enough credit for their ingenious designs. But impressive that the government recognized early to protect them. Maggie
Thank you, Maggie.
What an interesting site, so much to wonder about – what happened to the people, where did they go, how did this site made of clay and mud last so long…? I’m glad the site is protected, hopefully we can learn more in the future about it’s past inhabitants.
Thank you for checking out our post, Rose.
Thanks you for this virtual visit. It was really interesting. I am always amazed by the sturdiness of the old buildings.
Thank you for visiting our post, Melodie!
Hi. It seems that the complex wasn’t occupied for all that many years. Maybe they were forced to leave by invaders?
That’s one of the theories, along with drought and disease. Thanks so much for checking out our post and for your comment.
That’s one of the theories along with drought and disease. Thanks for checking out our post!
It’s always so fascinating to visit and study places like Casa Grande. Isn’t it interesting when you uncover little parallels between different societies, like the ball games you mention which are similar to Aztec games. Arizona and Mexico aren’t too far apart on the world stage but nevertheless it’s fascinating to learn how similar ways of life developed within completely independent communities.
Yes, it’s fascinating. Mike and I are always asking, “Who knew?” Thank you for checking out the post and for your lovely comment.
Yes, it’s extremely interesting to us, as you can tell. Thank you for reading the post and for your thoughtful comment.
My apologies for two (now three replies). I thought the first one didn’t post. It’s getting late here and my tiredness is showing.
😄…two is better than none!
I like the intrigue and mystery around what the Casa Grande could have been used for. It’s incredible to hear just how old the site is and that there are still ruins that are visible. Thanks for sharing the history of the place and putting it on our radar.
Thank you! Casa Grande is a wonderful quick stop on a road trip.
Another very interesting post! When I visit a place like this, I really enjoy listening to the park rangers, and I like to watch the movie, too. I always learn so much which really adds to the visit. Casa Grande looks fascinating. I also had the thought that people have been creating graffiti for hundreds of years. I am glad this place is now protected. Thanks for your post!
Thank you, Betty!
Wow, for this site to be around for so long and yet still be so well preserved is amazing. Beautiful structure and maybe all the more so because no one knows for sure what it was used for. Another great post and history on this corner of the southwest 🙂
Thank you, Meg. We highly recommend southern Arizona road trips!
This place looks amazing, so much history. Loved learning about the Hohokam people.
Thank you Wayne!
Thank you, that was such fascinating history! I can’t image the work it took to build all of this.
Such an interesting site with all this history – I’d love to visit!
Another great historical post Kellye, fancy being able to touch structures that old, just amazing.