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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Casa Grande Ruins

Rick Morgan


We journeyed out in the Sonoran Desert to see the Casa Grande Ruins, and oh so glad we did! 

The ruins were built by the ancient Sonoran Desert People, also called Hohokam (ho ho KAM), a term now used by archeologists to define a cultural period. These Ancestral People are now referred to as the “First Masters of the American Desert.” For over 1,000 years they were hunter-gatherers, lived in permanent settlements, were expert crafters, irrigated their fields, built and managed canal systems, and tapped underground water in a "hostil" environment and intense heat of the desert. 


Portions of Casa Grande, the “great house” and some of the outlaying structural foundations have survived the test of time and still stand since 1350 C.E. (aka Common Era) when they were built. Pretty remarkable!

Why does it still stand? We build beautiful, magnificent buildings and structures and they rarely survive past a few hundred years. They fall apart during bad storms, hurricanes and earth quakes - and just  deteriorate. These ingenious peoples used a building material they found underfoot: caliche (cuh-LEE-chee) a concrete like mixture of sand, clay, and limestone - in fact, they used over mixed and used over 3,000 tons of caliche. In fact, the ranger who guided us through the history of the ruins told us that since becoming the nation’s first archeological reserve in 1892 during the presidency of  Benjamin Harrison, we have attempted to replicate the caliche mixture to help repair/reinforce the remains…to no avail!
Innumerable attempts to repair and reinforce the ruins with modern materials have failed. Nothing seems to last - not concrete, chicken wire, or synthetic substances. The attempts at replicating the caliche have failed do to the fact that the soil and underground clay has changed.

The original roof was flat and after hundreds of years of the force of weathering and neglect, the decomposing structural timbers collapsed. The current steel structure roof was installed in 1932.

Like the mystery surrounding many of the cliff dwelling cultures of the southwest, it is unknown what caused the approximately 2000 people of Casa Grande to abandon this area. We wandered the grounds, explored the wonderful museum, walked out to the Hohokam Ball Court and spotted an adorable round-tailed ground squirrel. 


After visiting sites like this, we can't help wondering what future generations will have to say about today's culture.

More pictures here.