Friday, July 06, 2001

Casa Grande

It's not every day in this country that you get to see the ruins of a 700-year-old building. But today was one of those days. We were supposed to go to Kitt Peak National Observatory last night to take part in their Nightly Observing Program. But monsoon season came early, so they canceled on us.

I still felt a need to get in a certain amount of tourism on this visit, however, so I selected Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, and my parents and I drove there today. Casa Grande was built by the Hohokam people, who occupied this area for almost two millenia before fading away around 1450. Nobody is quite sure what happened to them, but I was personally relieved that the white man can't be blamed for this one.

In 1694, Father Eusebio Kino passed by and named the ruins "Casa Grande." According to the Pima Indians who lived nearby, the people who used to live there were "all used up" or "ho-ho-kam". And thus the Hohokam got their name. Over the next couple of centuries, travelers drew closer to the ruins, with a rail line within 20 miles and a stagecoach path practically bumping up against it. However, it appears that there were only about a dozen years of serious danger (and some vandalism) for the ruins before Benjamin Harrison issued an executive order making it a National Monument. In the intervening years, they've built a canopy to protect it from the elements.

There's not a lot to see. The Park Service web site says that you should allow about an hour to look through the visitor center and to walk around the ruins, and that seems about right. The building is a shell, with detailed features hard to make out. You can see the holes in the walls that allow the sun to shine through exactly on the summer solstice (or mark other astronomical events). But the main thing to do is wander around marveling at the fact that there were people building multi-story buildings, playing ball games and building irrigation canals many, many years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue. And, of course, enjoy the desert vistas.

World Heritage Update

  • Casa Grande is not a World Heritage site (yet), but it is on the U.S.' provisional list.
  • Martin has been to 9 World Heritage sites. Ken writes that he's been to 4, but his wife has made it to 12.
  • The 13 sites that Bryson mentioned as meeting all 4 of UNESCO's criteria for inclusion as natural World Heritage sites are the Great Barrier Reef (Australia), the Tasmanian Wilderness (Australia), the Wet Tropics of Queensland (Australia), Shark Bay (Australia), Talamanca Range-La Amistad Reserves/ La Amistad National Park (Costa Rica/Panama), Galapagos (Ecuador), Te Wahipounamu (New Zealand), Lake Baikal (Russia), VallĂ©e de Mai (Seychelles), Yellowstone (USA), the Grand Canyon (USA), the Great Smoky Mountains (USA), and Canaima (Venezuela). Since his book was published, Gunung Mulu National Park (Malaysia) has also been added. Pretty impressive list.

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