Arizona Bucket list No. 72 – Pueblo Grande

To celebrate the Smithsonian Museum’s National Museum Day (@museum day, #museumdaylive) my husband and I journeyed to the edge of downtown Phoenix to visit the Pueblo Grande Museum.

We both suspected that we’d gone as kids on school fields trips, since we both grew up in the Phoenix area, but we couldn’t remember the details.

Even though this is a small museum and site compared to some other Native American sites we have visited, it is impressive and we appreciated the conservation efforts. You are allowed to walk around the Mound complex on a paved path. I remember feeling bored here as a kid because the colors are very monotone, but I appreciate it a lot more as an adult. I took a class last year in anthropology using my college tuition waiver (one of my favorite job perks!) and I learned a lot about mound people and culture. It’s amazing to think that people settled in the Phoenix area almost a millenia and a half ago and get their society going for about 1,000 years. The Pima Indians of Arizona call them the Hohokam, “those who are are gone.” No one really knows why these ancient people died out or went away, and they left scant clues. IMG_1320.jpg

My husband was most impressed with their amazing engineering skills. They built dozens of canals that are scattered around the Valley area. They would use certain ones forever, it seemed, but others were used a short time and abandoned or diverted. Back then, the old river flowed steadily, so they had a constant fresh water source. This allowed them to cultivate crops and support their community. Some estimates say that at one time around Pueblo Grande there were 40,000 people spread out in small farming villages. Anthropologists say that learning to cultivate crops allowed the people the freedom to travel and trade. It’s clear that some of them traveled as far as the California coast, because a lot of the jewelry they left behind was made from shell.

I really enjoyed this opportunity to explore an important heritage site, basically located in our own backyard. The experience reminded me of visiting the La Brea Tar Pits ten years ago. I still can’t get over the fact a site like this, thousands of  years old, exists right in the heart of Phoenix, like La Brea, a bubbling pit of black tar, still exists, right in the middle of LA.

Thanks, Smithsonian Museum! IMG_1319.jpg


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