Spotlight: Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
The tallest prehistoric structure in North America and an annual music festival make this a great stop on your Sonoran Desert road trip!
What You’ll Find
One of the largest prehistoric structures ever built in North America. More than just a collection of old mud walls; you’ll find the remains of an ancient Sonoran Desert people's farming community and their Casa Grande or "Great House". The purpose of the Casa Grande remains a mystery, but the people left behind not only their architecture but pottery, basketry, trade items and original jewelry as clues to help us piece together their story. This very accessible park is a hidden gem for all kinds of travelers headed to more famous Arizona destinations, from hardcore thrill-seekers who only have time for a quick stop en route to their trailhead, to casual tourists who don’t want to hike a canyon or rappel down a mountainside to see the ruins. It takes about an hour to follow the self-guided trail or join a guided tour.
If you’re making a desert road trip from Phoenix to Tucson (or vice versa) Casa Grande Ruins is almost exactly halfway—in the town of Coolidge. A side-trip to Casa Grande Ruins will add only about 8 miles to your trip on Interstate 10 and makes for a great leg-stretcher, too. Check the park website for a map and directions.
Make Sure You
Check out the annual American Indian Arts and Music Fest and plan to attend if you can! Held each February, it’s one of the Monument’s signature events. The two day festival features Native American music, cultural demonstrations and over 30 separate booths of crafts, foods, musical instruments and more.
Visit in the fall, winter or early spring, and you’ll beat the summer heat as well as increase your chances of joining special activities and events! From November to April, the park offers regularly scheduled guided tours as well as periodic hands-on demonstrations. Knap some flint, work a bead loom, dissect an owl pellet or taste some edible desert plants! Wildflowers accompany the Music Fest in February and the special backcountry tours offered during Arizona Archaeology Month in March. Backcountry tours require reservations; call the park at (520) 723-3172 for more information.
Lodging and RV camping are available locally in the adjacent town of Coolidge; chain hotels are available 10 miles away in Florence or closer to Interstate 10 at the town of Casa Grande. Tent camping options are limited; try the Recreation.gov search box to find what’s available in the area.
To stop here during your desert wanderings is to follow in some mighty big footsteps! Historic figures that precede you include Padre Francisco Eusebio Kino and Lt. Col. Juan Baptista de Anza. Kino, founder of the missions at Tumacácori and San Xavier del Bac, stopped here in 1694 and actually gave the Casa Grande its name. Anza camped here in 1775 on his way to establish an outpost at what is now the city of San Francisco, California.
By the 1870’s, a stage line took passengers from the railway terminal at the town of Casa Grande (20 miles away) to the (still) wonderful ‘old west style’ town of Florence. Stage passengers stopped at the “Great House” to gawk at the ancient walls. In recognition of the Casa Grande’s beauty, cultural value and its need for protection, President Benjamin Harrison designated it as the nation’s first archeological preserve in 1892.
Fees at Work
On your way to the "Great House" you’ll walk through the new rammed earth addition to the visitor center and museum. Your fees paid for this multiple use auditorium and the film you’ll watch inside—Casa Grande: House of Many Stories, which includes multiple perspectives that contribute to an understanding of the site's importance.
Visit the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument website or give the park a call at (520) 723-3172.