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.