Casa Grande is a thriving community at the junction of Interstate 8 and Interstate 10, between Phoenix and Tucson. In fact, it is the eastern terminus of Interstate 8 which begins (or ends ) in San Diego.
But there is another “Casa Grande” about 25 miles northeast of town. This Casa Grande or “Great House”is a bit older, about 700 years older. It is believed to have been constructed around 1350 to 1400 A.D. by “Ancestral People” thought to have inhabited the area, transitioning from hunter – gatherers to farming over several hundred years.
Yesterday, we drove out to see Casa Grande, the Great House. This National Monument covers some 800 acres. And although there are other antiquities on the site, the Great House is the star attraction. Many of the other “finds” are covered up for protection and not yet open to the public. The Casa Grande Ruin is covered above for protection from the elements. This cover has been in place since 1932, having replaced a previous cover built in 1890. Interestingly, before it was “protected”, the Ruin was visited by anyone passing thru the area. As Americans seem apt to do, some of the walls are etched with grafitti such as “J.D. Anderson, 112th Cavalry, 1875”. Such disturbances have been left in place, now part of history.
Casa Grande is surrounded by mystery, not the least of which is why was it built. Theories include that it was someone’s palace or that it had some scientific or cosmic purpose. The latter theory is based on its construction. The walls align north, south, east and west. And included in the construction, remaining even today, are circular holes that align specifically with periodic solar and lunar events.
The ruin is four stories tall with multiple rooms on each floor. There is the outer wall, as well as an inner wall. Each wall is about 4 feet thick. Wooden poles at least 10 feet long were used to support the floors. Interestingly, these poles were not found locally, but in the far off mountains above 6,000 feet. This during a time when horses, cattle or oxen had not yet been introduced to North America. Another mystery.
The grounds immediately in the area of the Great House included lesser connected rooms believed to be dwellings.
These Ancestral People intentionally located here between the Gila, Salt, San Carlos and Sen Pedro rivers. And although these rivers only flow seasonally today due to being restricted by dams or diverted, they once flowed all year long. Evidence supports that these inhabitants, having turned to farming, built canals by hand using tools fashioned for the purpose from stone and other indigenious materials. Even so, these ruins are a fair distance from their water sources, suggesting that canal building took a very long time. Maybe it was a pay as you go plan by which canals would be dug to support a certain amount of plantings. Then, once canals were extended, more plantings could take place. Such are the mysteries of these people and Casa Grande.
In addition to the Ruins, there is a Visitors Center that includes a lot of information and displays, a theater and 20 minute movie and several knowledgeable volunteers. All in all, an interesting place to visit which we highly recommend.
The only downside is that it is about 25 miles north from the intersection of Highway 87 and Interstate 10. But, at least for us, it was worth the drive.