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Prehistoric Sites

For a thousand years, the Sonoran desert was home to the prehistoric Hohokam and Salado peoples. The Hohokam, "those who have gone," constructed permanent villages and five hundred miles of irrigation canals, gathered wild plants for food, farmed corn, beans, cotton and squash, made beautiful shell jewelry and pottery. Around 1450 AD they vanished, abandoning their villages - it's still a mystery. Visiting these prehistoric village sites, kids can imagine family life in the desert centuries ago.
  Casa Grande Ruins National Monument (Coolidge)
Casa Grande ruins
    Casa Grande, the "great house," is the largest building left by the Hohokam today. Completed around 1350 AD, it's 35 ft tall, four stories high, with walls made of caliche (hardpan adobe), four feet thick. The building was enclosed in a large compound, which also included other houses, work areas, courtyards and storage rooms. The entire village was abandoned by 1450 AD.
    Before going out to the ruins, check out the museum which has a re-creation of a classic period Hohokam house, model of the archeological ruins, gorgeous shell necklaces, pottery and stone tools. A touch table has desert goodies – a scorpion (in plastic), mule deer antler, tepary beans, devil's pod seed claw, cholla cactus.
      At the ruins, walk around the back of Casa Grande. No one really knows what this mega-building was used for, but one idea is that it's a prehistoric observatory. On the left side of the building, high up to the left, is a small circular window. This window aligns with the summer solstice; other windows align with the sun and moon as well.

Next to the museum are shaded picnic tables.


Besh-Ba-Gowah Archeological Park (Globe) – Besh-Ba-Gowah was built over a period of time by the Salado people, overlaying an earlier Hohokam village. The village was inhabited from about 1225 - 1400 AD, and then deserted; perhaps the Salado migrated south or east. What's great about these ruins is that they are partially reconstructed, and kids can climb up inside a two story building.

    Stop into the museum to pick up the interpretive guide to the ruins. Inside the museum is a model of the village, lovely pottery bowls with black and white geometric designs (one bowl is 800 years old) and other stone artifacts, plus a little table where kids can make a rock art rubbing.
      In the ruins, kids can explore the maze of rooms, go in and out the rectangular doorways (just their size), and check out a room reconstructed to show a single family dwelling. A sunken ceremonial chamber had benches and an altar where a single large quartz crystal was found. Using the wooden ladder, climb up to the second floor living area and peer out the windows over the ruins.
      Picnic tables are out front, and there's a playground next door with climbing structures and swings.
  Picture Rocks (Tucson) – Picture Rocks is a collection of more than 100 petroglyphs made by the Hohokam between 800-1300 AD. On the rocks are hunting and dancing scenes, spirals, and animals that look like mountain sheep. Archeologists think this rock art may have been used to mark the seasons. The petroglyphs are a short walk from the road, and don't climb on the rocks.
    The petroglyphs are located on private property, 7101 W. Picture Rocks Rd., at the Redemptorist Renewal Center, northwest of Tucson. Stop into the center office, and they'll give you a brochure about the petroglyphs and directions where to park.
  Signal Hill (Saguaro National Park West) – Everyone in the family can take the short walk to see the Hohokam petroglyphs at the top of Signal Hill. Check out the thousand year old stick figures, spirals, circles, dogs, lizards, snakes, geometric figures, and leaping game animals. The meaning of the petroglyphs isn't known, though they may be clan symbols or calendar markers. Tip: The road to Signal Hill is dirt, but level and well-graded.
kids books hoover dam
Ancient Indians of the Southwest  

Discover the ancient Indians of this area, Hohokam and Salado, – where did they live, how did they survive in the hot desert, what were their villages like, what did they do for fun. (Picture book)


More children's book on other Arizona pages
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