Archaeological Adventures of Arizona Petroglyph
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2000 YEARS WITHIN 90 MILES

By Lee Rochwerger
Reprinted from "The Arizonian"

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Southeast of Phoenix, near Coolidge, is the Casa Grande site (one mile north of Coolidge on Hwy 87). These freestanding adobe structures are a testimonial to the engineering skill of the Hohokam who built them nearly 600 years ago. The central structure is multi-storied, protected from the elements by a modern steel-frame ramada, erected in 1932. The 600 roof beams found at the site originated in mountain forests of ponderosa pine, juniper and other woods and must have been transported over 50 miles to this flat, barren locale. Casa Grande also contains one of the best preserved of Arizona's more than 200 prehistoric ball courts.

There is some speculation that Casa Grande may have functioned as an astronomical observatory. The third story walls of the multi-floored structure have holes and windows that align with the equinoxial sunrises, summer solsticial sunsets and some lunar observations.

The first European to see Casa Grande was the Jesuit missionary, Fr. Eusebio Francisco Kino, on 27 November 1694; it subsequently became a landmark for desert travelers. In the late 19th Century the Southern Pacific Railroad increased the volume of visitors and by 1918 Casa Grande became a national monument. The site includes an interpretive museum and botanical garden.

Salado culture represents an amalgam of Anasazi and Mogollon cultures. It originated in north-central Arizona along the Little Colorado River and expanded south (ca. AD 1100) to the Gila and Salt River basins ("Salado" is Spanish for "salty"). The Salado were irrigation farmers and hunter-gatherers; they produced pottery and cotton textiles. For unknown reasons in ca. AD 1200, they began to move their pueblos to cliff sides such as the Tonto site. Like the Hohokam, this culture also faded from the archaeological record in about AD 1450. The construction of the Roosevelt Dam in 1911 flooded much of the remains of the Salado, leaving them something of an enigma.

About 90 miles east of Phoenix, in a park-like area of Globe, Arizona, are the Salado ruins of Besh-Ba-Gowah, a site of some 200 rooms in structures dating to ca. AD 1200-1400. The pueblo's construction is primarily river cobbles and adobe and has been restored to constitute an open-air museum of great interest: not merely vacant rooms, but pottery and other artifacts of this ancient agricultural community.

Roughly 30 miles northwest of Globe, near Roosevelt, Arizona, lies the Tonto site, a cliff dwelling reminiscent of Gila, Mesa Verde, Betatakin or Keet Seel. The Salado occupants of Tonto, possibly motivated by warfare, moved to this cliff site in about AD 1250. The site consists of three units: Upper Ruin, Lower Ruin and Lower Ruin Annex. The latter originally consisted of about twelve rooms, but has been mostly destroyed by weather. The Lower Ruin sits in a natural cave or overhang about 50 feet deep, 40 feet high and 85 feet long, and consisted of about 30 rooms; with the Annex, this multi-storied warren of rooms housed about 50 people. They tilled fields 1000 feet below the ruins and 2-5 miles distant.

The visitors' center contains some interpretive displays and the desert flora along the trail to the ruins are marked with explanatory signs, rendering the site as interesting for amateur botanists as it is for archaeological aficionados.

Motorists with small, sturdy vehicles and who enjoy white-knuckle driving might take the Apache Trail (AZ Hwy 88) between Tonto and Apache Junction. This narrow, largely unpaved route winds through Apache Canyon and offers some spectacular views, though not much room to stop for photographs.

If this brief survey has whetted your appetite for more, read "Ancient Ruins of the Southwest - An Archaeological Guide" by David Grant Noble. This is an excellent book for anyone wishing to explore the multitude of archaeological treasures of the American Southwest.

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