Our last day in Casa Grande had us looking for something else to do. I had read a lot of blogs of people who visited the Casa Grande National Monument and most of these reviews gave me the impression that the monument might be a bit underwhelming. Despite its critics we decided that we too should check it out and form our own opinions.
About 30 minutes away we pulled into the Casa Grande National Monument parking lot just outside of the town of Coolidge, Arizona. There is a $5 per person charge to enter the grounds but we used our America the Beautiful Annual Pass to get in free. As we entered the Visitor's Center we noticed a store and small museum of sorts in the building. As we worked our way through the building we were told that a guided tour was about to commence.
The guided tour took about an hour with most of it taking place at an outdoor seating area with the monument in the background. Our very informative volunteer told us all about how the Native Americans made their way to this part of the desert and how they transformed it into a large community of dirt farmers and artists. The last 10 minutes involved a tour around the modest ruins with some brief commentary given by our guide. The volunteer guide was both informative and passionate about the history of the monument. Even though there were a few rude, impatient guests he managed the group perfectly.
Initially we understood why so many thought this place to be quite under whelming but as we lingered something crept over us and our opinions began to change. We could envision small groups of early Hohokum Indians in the Sonoran desert trying to eek out an existence in this very arid and hot climate. With the once flowing and now very dry Gila River only a mile or so away their will to live and thrive empowered them to create an extensive, well engineered canal system to feed water to the dry reaches of desert that they lived.This enabled them to grow corn, squash and beans adding variety to their foraging diet.
As the water flowed the populations swelled to around 2,000 people and the community of dirt farmers and artists seemed to have a wonderful existence. We loved the baskets and pottery they made produced on display in the Visitor Center.. There were several scattered small fenced compounds and this one in particular had a four story big house or Casa Grande erected. The significance of the big house is unknown but I like the theory that it was more of a palace housing the chiefs, the wise men and the spiritual leaders. How grand it must have been to live in this community at least until it came crashing down as the result of flooding, drought or both…
The monument may seem underwhelming at first but after a little time I think many will come to admire as we did the amazing strength and culture of the Native American people who once lived in this place. An added treat was to discover from our guide that a small family of Great Horned Owls had taken up residence in the structure built back in the 1400 AD era. As the father owl remained perched above in the protective roof (built in 1932) he oversaw the mother owl sitting on her nest. The owls surely must understand the significance of this site since they have made it their home. We are so glad we visited this wonderful monument.