The Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is located in Coolidge, AZ, southeast of Phoenix. Our homeschool group arranged a tour, so we were guided through a movie, crafts, demonstrations, and of course, a tour of the ruins. If you aren’t visiting with a group, you can still take advantage of some of the fun activities we participated in, or call ahead and let them know you’d like to schedule a group tour!
Movie and Weaving
We started with the movie, which gave an overview of the history of the ruins — who built them and why, who discovered them, and how they came to be a National Monument. After the movie we split into three groups, and our group headed to the weaving station first. The kids were given a Dixie cup with slits cut into it and some yarn, with which they practiced weaving. It took a bit of dexterity and patience, and while no one finished, they were allowed to keep a small ball of yarn to finish the project later.
The next stop was billed as “paint your own pottery” but in reality the kids just drew pictures on a piece of paper that had the outline of a ceramic pot. Before setting down to draw, we had a brief tour of the museum to find “inspiration” in some of the pottery pieces on display. My 8 year old took it seriously and mimicked the Native American style of decoration he saw in the pottery, but my 6 year old just drew goofy faces all over it.
Tour of the Ruins
After that stop we went on a tour of the ruins led by a park ranger, who explained how the ruins were built and a bit about why they were constructed the way they were. The largest ruins are closed off to visitors going inside — you can peer in through barred doors but I guess there was too much vandalism and general wearing down of the structure to safely allow people inside anymore.
One thing you will notice is the “graffiti” all over the walls, which has a bit of history itself. Back in the late 1800’s, a nearby stagecoach route brought many visitors to the ruins, and many of these visitors left a permanent historical record of their visit by inscribing their names on the ruins. This is one of the reasons that other groups worked so hard to have the site preserved, and the Casa Grande National Ruins became the first prehistoric and cultural reserve established in the United States.
After the tour we headed to an area where the kids were taught how the ancient Sonoran Desert dwellers ground corn into flour. They used one large rock with a groove in the center and a smaller rock for grinding. Living here in Arizona I have to admit we’ve done a similar activity many times at other museums, but it certainly gives kids an idea of how hard people had to work for their food.
When the tour was over we all headed over to a public picnic area for lunch. The area was covered and had lots of tables for seating. Nearby there was another ruin labeled as an ancient playing field of some kind. It’s also a nice space out of the way of other museum-goers where the kids can run amok and not bother anyone!
All in all, it was definitely an interesting field trip. I did learn that on any given day these craft activities are not available, so if you go with your kids keep this in mind. There aren’t any other hands-on activities for kids, just things to look at. So I would highly recommend scheduling a tour if you can.
Also, remember that these ruins ARE in the middle of the desert. (Read: no shelter from the heat.) We visited in February and it was lovely, but I wouldn’t go any later than April. The visitor center and grounds are stroller-friendly, and as I mentioned there is a large picnic area available. There aren’t a whole lot of food options nearby though so pack a lunch!
For more information visit Casa Grande Ruins National Monument web site.