Casa Grande Ruins National Monument contains an imposing 4-storey building dating from the late Hohokam period, probably 14th century and contemporary with other well preserved ruins in Arizona such as the Tonto and Montezuma Castle monuments. It is situated in the flat plain of central Arizona in between the Gila and Santa Cruz rivers, just north of Coolidge and about 15 miles from the larger town of Casa Grande. The structure was once part of a collection of settlements scattered along the Gila River and linked by a network of irrigation canals. The area has a low elevation and hence is very hot - often over 110°F for several months in the summer. During spring, this part of Arizona is sometimes the hottest place in the whole USA, and even in winter, daytime temperatures can reach 80°F.
The entrance fee is $5 (but is doubling to $10 on January 1, 2018)...we used our National Parks Pass so didn't have to pay. We were just in time for a short movie, so made our way through the display area, to the theatre. After the movie, we decided to take the free tour...led by a very knowledgeable park volunteer. It always amazes me the amount of information they enthusiastically share! We learned that they carried logs used in the 4 floor structure 60 miles by hand...amazing!
While you are seated for the introduction the guide will explain the history of the ruins, the archeology, and the Hohokam Culture. Your guide, either ranger or trained volunteer, will then lead the tour into Compound A and point out interesting features. You may enter or leave the tour at any point, or you may chose to visit the park on a self-guided tour. There are signs and exhibits to enhance your visit with volunteers and staff eager to hear your stories and discuss your questions.
The 'Great House' can be seen from some distance away owing to the flatness of the terrain, and has a rather curious appearance from afar as the structure is protected from the harsh desert sun by a large metal roof supported by four great pillars, designed by architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. This is an impressive design, and is certainly necessary to help preserve the building but it is still rather incongruous. The present cover replaced an earlier wooden construction in 1932. The scale of the ruin is best appreciated from close up - it is 60 feet by 40 feet wide at the base and has caliche walls over a meter thick. Although visitors are not allowed into the building owing to its delicate state, much can be seen from outside including details of the construction with wooden beams supporting the clay walls, and various internal features such as stairways and windows. However, besides the protective canopy, the interior contains other modern items such as re-enforcing beams, metal ladders and measuring devices on the walls, all contributing to the slightly unnatural scene.
Our guide took us for a walk around the "Great House". At this point, he asked for some help and asked me (the disadvantage of standing close)...he was going to recite a poem that ends with a ghostly "Whoo Hooo"...and that was my job. Too funny!
The tour concluded after the poem and everyone was free to continue walking the grounds.
With such a large crowd it took awhile to take photos. The pictures are in no particular order as we wandered around the compound trying to avoid others...
Once we had seen enough outside, it was time to go through the displays inside the visitors center...