Ruins on a Grand Scale

The closer we got to December 21, 2012, the more “doomsday” shows appeared on TV: the prophesies of Nostradamus, the “Doomsday Preppers,” and every interpretation of what the Book of Revelations and the Mayan Calendar might have in store for us. Me? I’m not surprised we’re still here. Of course the world will probably be in worse shape — but then, doomsday or not, every day is a little worse than the one before (global warming, global financial disarray, etc.).

Not that I don’t think the Mayan were onto something with their calendar — it’s incredibly accurate in its determination of when the Earth was born. But just because the world didn’t end on December 21 doesn’t mean the Mayan were wrong. As with everything, we projected our own ideas onto their culture and its artifacts. After all, our calendars end every year on December 31, don’t they?!?

Anyway, we just don’t give enough credit to the people who walked this ground hundreds and thousands of years ago.

Just a short drive from Casa Grande, Arizona, sits a perfect example.


The Big House in the Casa Grande Prehistoric Ruins National Monument is the “tallest and most massive Hohokam building known, standing 35 feet tall and containing nearly 3000 tons of caliche.” Caliche is a mud — so the structure isn’t built of bricks or blocks, but with layers of mud.


The Big House was the central building in a two-acre compound, and although its use is in question, its many windows and openings that align with the sun and moon at different times of the year have led to speculation it was used as an observatory. Given the Hohokam were so reliant on farming they used irrigation canals to water crops, this makes sense — close study of the seasons for planting would make an observatory a smart investment.

Several clusters of buildings formed neighborhoods around the Casa Grande, and the remains of those dwellings are so open you can actually walk in them (just don’t touch their walls).


And although I’m easily bored by the usual presentations given by rangers or other experts at historical sites, the volunteer at this site was particularly helpful, especially when answering questions…


…and when the discussion does get boring, these nearby critters easily upstage the presenter:



But here are the most important take-aways from this blast from the past:

  • Although the water table sustained the Hohokam people of this area for a thousand years, the white settlers depleted it in a mere sixty years of farming.
  • These structures were built sometime between 300 CE and 1100 CE and stood for centuries unmarred except for natural weathering. When the railroads brought people across the Southwest in the 1930s, those people broke down walls and carved their names and initials in the walls, defacing the remains.

The site doesn’t look like much from the road, but its simplicity is deceptive: it’s just the hint of a complex, sophisticated social and economic structure that existedin the midst of the desert thousands of years ago.

Never should we underestimate the intelligence — and wisdom (yes, they are different!) — of those who came before us.

About Ellen

Fiction writer and photographer, I travel the country with my sweetheart of a husband as a "full-time RVer."
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