Introducing the 1300s: a mystery on which we obsess again while touring Casa Grande Ruins

In our travels to the Western U.S. we began to recognize a common thread weaving together abandoned sites. The occupation of sites ended close to or within one particular century… the 1300s.

Gone. As if — POOF — people vanished, leaving only traces of their civilizations in the ruins of structures we visited…

…Where did the people go? Did they go? Seems logical to ask, was there a pandemic?

Or think perhaps the changing whims of climate — floods or drought. If not force of nature — volcanic ash clouds? earthquakes? — then what? Overpopulation? Contaminants?

If they migrated, then to where?

The specialists at these historic places offer theories about each place.

From the cliff shelters of Mesa Verde or Hovenweep to today’s stop, Casa Grande, in addition to lots of sites around Arizona, we’ve listened to the park rangers, archaeologists and historians point out that humans last lived in these places, usually until the late 1200s, vanishing by the 1300s.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument offered a break in our drive to Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

RVoyager docked at Lake Havasu City Elks Lodge

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
  • Quiet
  • Did not go in the lodge
  • Power and water
  • Not near the Lake

To fill the void of hours on the road, we have floated numerous conspiracy style theories:

Did the Vikings come to America early with a plague to which the natives were not immune?

We don’t like to leave our brains behind when we sightsee. But it can be tricky to learn while the body woo-hoos in vacation mode. Yet we seem to recall places for this 1300s mystery nearly everywhere…

Our visit to Casa Grande also solidified for us the importance of resources.

Ancient people flourished if they could manipulate water.

The people of Casa Grande built canals to water crops… and in the early 1300s this structure that must have seemed huge.

Within 50 years they were gone…but might they have been some of the people who abandoned drought strickened regions in the beginning of the 1300s, only to struggle with water again?

Another mystery here: WHY was Casa Grande built?
  • Some say astronomical uses such as determining solstices.
  • Others say crop storage and gatherings.
  • Likeliest? Multipurpose!

One scientist in the Visitor Center video suggested the possibility that flood re-routed the Gila river, and other flooding destroyed the canals. These losses eventually made rebuilding too difficult. Regardless, without enough water, any desert region becomes less livable.

Another theory posed that copycat engineers diverted the water supply long before it reached Casa Grande.

What do you think? Join us in trying to imagine as you tour the grounds with us in this slideshow:

  • The ruins have an awning-like structure above.
  • A ramada is a roof providing shade and shelter, the display of a model ramada and sign indicate in the interpretive center.
  • Sign with the story of the Great House: the multistory structure is from the Classic period. It was built and occupied by Hohokam people. The roof was made of local juniper or saguaro reeds. The walls were caliche  plaster. Add ons happened in the 50 years of use. Crops were stored in lower rooms. Carefully placed openings marked the sky and horizon for solistices, equinoxes and eclipses to improve farming along with their irrigation systems.
  • AJ and Bill pose in front of the locked front door of the ruins by a sign asking Why the house was built.
  • Scale model of what Casa Grande looked like in the 1300s with cut aways and models of the interior.
  • Dilapidated wall
  • Another side of the model of the house
  • Tiny opening probably through which grain passed.
  • Bill from the other side of the opening at the end of a hall of the ruins
  • Wall with names such as Neil S carved in block letters.
  • More cracked walls.
  • A hole in the wall, more graffiti.
  • Sign about "Irrigation Communities" with map of river and canals, ruins in the background
  • Barrel cactus blooming with four yellow knobs on top
  • a flat desert view surrounding the ruins

Casa Grande offered one solver we never encountered before: the notion that the people never left. In this scenario,

The Hohokam never really vanished, but reverted to a lifestyle better adapted to the changing conditions of the desert.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
Coolidge, AZ 85128

(520) 723-3172
Official site of CGRNM

News feed from Casa Grande Ruins NM

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