Monthly Archives: April 2021

Casa Grande and Local Beans

The last outdoor attraction we visited in the Sonoran Desert was one of the best. It was surprisingly developed, and I didn’t appreciate it until after I had seen it. Its photos do not do it justice as an important landmark. The visitor center was closed due to COVID, but Ruth & I were able to see the ruins that made it quite possible to envision the importance and usefulness of the food producing region we were seeing.

The Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is not near the town of Casa Grande between Tucson and Phoenix. It is close to the town of Coolidge. Early Spanish explorers, specifically a Jesuit missionary by the name of Kino, named it Casa Grande, Great House. To early explorers it was a mystery that is only understood long after its usefulness ended. Food in large quantities was produced here, but it was also like Stonehenge and other ancient sites in that it was a time and season awareness keeper for prehistory humans. The Casa Grande structure is the last remaining one this culture developed. Its survival is a miracle. No one knows how many others there were in this area, but it is clearly one of the larger food providers to desert dwellers and very important. It all reminded me of Cahokia, a veritable city near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers that is now thought to be one of the main population centers of the ancient world. I had to be an adult traveler to other civilizations around the world to appreciate Cahokia’s importance.

About 4,000 years ago, human beings began growing corn at what is now Casa Grande. Over time more crops like beans and water-needing cotton were successfully planted. The Native Americans who did this dug canals to water their vast fields. At it height,19,000 acres of crops were harvested here. By that time larger villages had begun to appear in the fertile valley at the edge of the Sonoran. Some of the residents of larger villages in the area lived in cliff dwellings. The humans at Casa Grande lived in pit houses near their crops and canals. In an area that gets only 9 inches of rain each year, they produced 2 annual crops. Over time a sophisticated watering system was invented to allow the growing of more difficult crops like cotton. These natives known as the Huhugham people, translated incorrectly as the Hohokams, developed a culture that traded for sea shells, turquoise, and scarlet macaws with Native Americans living closer to seas.

While in Arizona, Ruth and I bought Tepary beans, a staple food in the Native American diet. We had never eaten them before, and the male and female who sold them to us had never tasted them so could not describe their flavor or explain their difference from other beans. We have since learned that these beans are native to the Sonoran Desert. We made a soup from them and had it for dinner last night. Because we combined 2 recipes and left out some ingredients, we are having it again tonight and evaluating its worthiness. We did like it last night but adjustments were necessary, so to be continued.


Navajo Women

Most people are familiar with the names Sandra Day O’Connor and Gabby Giffords. They are both associated with Arizona and national politics. O’Connor was the first woman to serve on the US Supreme Court. But Annie Dodge Wauneka and Vera Brown Starr were Apache women who have been important too, but few people recognize their names. Starr has become familiar to me because I visited the Native American Women of Arizona Monument on the campus of the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Navajos live primarily in New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona. The Navajo Nation has almost 300,000 citizens. There is no urban center among all of the Indian Reservations in the United States. The town of Kayenta, AZ, population about 5,500, is the nominal capital of the Navajo Nation. This nation within another nation controls the largest land area overseen by an indigenous tribe in the United States. The 2 women named above have contributed to this entity over the years. That’s how I know the name Vera Brown Starr.

Annie Dodge Wauneke, noted Navajo leader, lived to be 87. She began getting an education in Fort Defiance, AZ at the age of 8. She had humble jobs like tending the sick during a TB outbreak and keeping kerosene lanterns operable. She got a degree from the University of Arizona in Tucson. Her degree was in Public Health. In 1949 she became the first woman member of the Navajo Tribal Council. She received a Presidential Medal of Freedom and an honorary doctorate as she continued her mission to improve Native American health. Her entire life was spent trying to improve the lives of Navajos.

Vera Brown Starr’s name is inscribed on the Native American Women of Arizona Monument at the University of Arizona in Tucson. She died in 1985. She was the 1st woman chair of the Yavapai-Apache Nation. The Yavapai are a Native American tribe in Arizona. The “People of the Sun” were irrigation masters who settled in the Prescott area. The 2 historically distinct tribes joined together to form one nation in Arizona. Vera Brown Starr was a mentor during her lifetime who was devoted to improving her tribe.

The Navajo have always been a matriarchal society. Descent and inheritance, for example, are determined through one’s mother. Navajo women have owned most of this tribes resources and property, including livestock, over the years. When an Apache woman dies, her children are traditionally sent to live with her family. They are keepers of the cultural flame and are currently fighting the COVID pandemic.


Another Place Not Visited by Montezuma

The National Park Service maintains 22 units in the state of Arizona that range from a frontier trading post to the Grand Canyon. Over our lifetimes Ruth and I have been to 19 of them and we have repeated several like Montezuma’s Well. We added 3 to our been there list this trip including Tuzigoot and the Sonoran Desert National Monument. Our favorite smaller facility is Pipe Spring NM and Chiricahua is among our larger favorites.

Montezuma’s Castle is not a castle, and Montezuma ruled Mexico long after settlers, who assumed a connection, named this large cliff dwelling after him. Montezuma’s Castle is a 5 story, 20 room cliff dwelling just off I-17 north of Phoenix that some consider the most well-preserved, ancient dwelling in the United States. The Sinagua people climbed ladders up to it for 600 years before leaving to join other communities of Native Americans long before Montezuma lived.

It was an ideal residence in a canyon wall. From their perch, the Sinaguas could see their food supply growing, had plenty of water from Beaver Creek to use on their crops, and could see the approach of anyone who might be intent on hurting them. The Beaver flowed into the important Verde River, and the Verde Valley where Montezuma’s Castle is placed had water all year. There were 40 sustainable villages in this valley at one time including other cliff dwellings. Security guaranteed, the Sinaguas were able to focus on developing pottery, textiles, and jewelry.

Rivers and streams provided other benefits. Mesquite and the Arizona Sycamore trees grew along them. Mesquites provided both food and medicine. Natives produced a type of candy from them. The sycamores provided wood for ceiling beams in their cliff homes. They even found uses for obnoxious plants like the one they called the scratching bush. They made furniture from its wood and derived honey from it.

Montezuma’s Castle was an important tourist attraction long before Ruth & I first saw it. One of the artifacts from early on that the National Park Service has preserved is a very old diorama that showed guided tour groups what the now inaccessible cliff dwellings looked like inside. This diorama’s usefulness ended 70 years ago. Visitors can still learn today a lot about plants, trees, and living there. I heard one man tell his son, “This is almost like a staged Hollywood set.”



Geotargit and other services will tell you that there are 9 towns named Manhattan in the USA, but only 5 of them are towns of real consequence. The others are too small to matter much, and there are no population centers with this name outside of the United States.

One of the towns with Manhattan in its name is Manhattan Beach, CA. This community of about 35,000 in the LA area has no significant tourist attractions. Most of its recommended activities have to do with its beach and other beaches in the area.

Manhattan, IL is a stand alone town of about 7,000 just south of Chicago. There is not much to do there either, but there are a lot of attractions in Chicago. The other towns named Manhattan that are very tiny are in Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. The town of Manhattan, NV has only 124 people living in it, and Manhattan, MT has a population of about 1,500.

The town of Manhattan reported to be in Florida has an interesting history. In 1925 a developer in the Tampa area proposed a community named Manhattan for this area. Since so many retirees came to Florida to live, this was not a half bad idea at the time. However, hurricanes happened and the town never got built. The idea was quickly abandoned, but it’s said that there is a subdivision with this name in the Tampa–St. Pete area. I have not confirmed this or studied the area for viable tourist activities.

Manhattan, KS is the 2nd largest Manhattan with 52,000 or so residents. Ruth and I used to go through Manhattan, Kansas a lot and were familiar with its tourist potential but we now live in the state of Washington and see less of Kansas. We have only been through Manhattan, KS a couple of times lately and it seems to have changed. The next time we make it to this area, however, I plan to check out the Flint Hills Discovery Center and the insect zoo at its university.

The largest Manhattan in the USA is, of course, the New York City borough with this name. The name Manhattan comes from the Munsee Lenape, a Native American tribe. It incorporates their words for bow and gathering and its usage dates from the 17th century. When people from Europe arrived on the island soon called Manhattan, they found many Native Americans already living there, and New York stayed one borough for more than 200 years. Now there are 5 boroughs. The 2nd one added was The Bronx in 1894. It was named for Jonas Bronck, a Swedish settler.

There are many activities for visitors in Manhattan, but fewer since COVID came to town, and the sturdy population of 1.6 million reported in 2019 is probably less now but no one know for sure until things settle down a bit.


A Change of Plan

The woman swore that the Arizona State Museum (ASM) in Tucson was open. She said further that she lived near it and it was definitely not closed. We went there. After parking our car in an ASU campus parking structure, Ruth & I walked to this renowned tourist attraction that we had never been in. It appeared closed. I went up to the door and peered in. A guard saw me and came to the door. After opening it a crack, he told me that the museum was closed by order of the President of the University and was not going to reopen until at least September, maybe even later, because of COVID. It was mid April.

I saw that Ruth had wandered over to a bench near some flowers. I walked to her and found that behind her was a memorial devoted to native American women. “This is a fine and appropriate place for a tribute,” I told her. I walked around it and didn’t recognize a single name. This did not surprise me. One arch had the name Louise Foucat Marshall on it. “Who was she?” I wondered. Names of many women were etched under several arches in tributes to them. It was impressive but unvisited in the heat of the day. There were few students about, and we were the only people paying attention to this memorial. I went back to Ruth who was focused on the flower, not the names. “It’s very unusual,” she told me, “to find a display of snapdragons standing alone without an assortment of other types of flowers nearby.” I walked around the beds of flowers taking pictures of them. They were mostly yellow snapdragons and indeed unusual. I looked again at the memorial and decided it was both well done and needed. It was a good find across the street from the closed museum. “I’m not surprised to find it was not open,”I said about the ASM. “Did you notice the unusual plants in front of it?”

We wandered back to the museum and examined spiky rows of plants that looked like cactus. “What do you suppose they are?” I asked Ruth, who is usually able to name plants, even in the Sonoran Desert. “I have no idea,” she said. We later saw more of them and learned that they were Queen’s Agave plants and fairly common.

It was lunchtime. “Should we find food?” I asked. “We passed a Student Union building that looked open,” she said. “Let’s see if they have something to eat.” It had several fast food outlets and a new type of food vending machine that The New York Times raved about. We dined well and in welcomed coolness while discussing what to do with the rest of our afternoon in Tucson where only outdoor activities were possible. At least there were plenty of these to choose from.