Pueblo Grande Museum
As one of the largest cities in the United States, it is easy to forget that Phoenix and the surrounding areas were home to settlers who arrived much earlier than any of us, or even our most distant ancestors. Dating back to 450 A.D, the Hohokam—translated from the Pima language, meaning “vanished ones”–called the Valley home.
Building structures and erecting canals, civilization flourished in what is now the Valley of the Sun. Seemingly as suddenly as people and traffic arrived, it all ended by 1450 A.D. No one knows exactly what happened to these first people of Arizona. Speculation turns to invasions, drought or perhaps assorted natural and man made disasters that may have removed a thriving civilization from the area.
While the reason for the disappearance of the Hohokam remains a mystery, the artifacts from their vibrant culture survive. Many of the key artifacts are currently on display in the heart of Phoenix, at Pueblo Grande Museum and Archeological Park, situated politely on the immediate desert landscape at Washington and 44th Streets. The contemporary building that houses the museum, gift shop and entrance fuses the look of older adobe construction with the clean lines of a modern architecture. Obscured partially by the construction of the light rail system, don’t allow the road signs to deter you from exploring what could be considered the city’s best not-too-hidden treasure.
Combing a museum with an actual archeological site, the 102-acre park grounds not only house changing and permanent exhibitions, it is a depository for all artifacts collected in Phoenix. Preserving Arizona history, the site is not only committed to scientific research, it is also committed to providing the public with information.
Open seven days a week, but closed for major holidays, the site offers educational tools, with information and special programming customized for younger visitors. A hands-on museum is near the lobby offering audio-visual aids and displays that can help each child find their “inner archeologist.” Augmenting the display, the museum offers throughout the year workshops, tours and activities scheduled for children where they can learn about the scientific process of finding artifacts as well as the Hohokam.
“The Hohokam thought of the desert as their Wal-Mart,” said Bianca Hernandez, a museum aid who has become well versed on the life and culture of one of Arizona’s first peoples. Utilizing bamboo, which grew along the Salt River, the Hohokam used every resource possible. Growing cotton, constructing elaborate canals to provide water, their resourcefulness included selling and trading cotton. They also made sure no seeds were included in their transactions to help insure their monopoly on the market. Creating trade routes that extended as far as modern day California and Mexico, the Hohokam did not live in isolation.
Trading cotton wasn’t the only product they had to offer. The Hohokam created colorful gourds, woven baskets and jewelry and were capable of producing cleaned lined–almost contemporary looking–useful objects that in modern eyes are more closely related to fine art. With free time on their hands, they also had sporting areas, one of which is preserved on site at the museum.
The first homes built by the Hohokam, pit houses, were lined on the interior completely in wood with the exterior covered in adobe mud. Semi subterranean, the dwellings took advantage of the insulation properties of earth to keep temperatures cool during the day and warm during the night. Evolution leads to innovation when they turned to compound houses. No longer recessed, or lined totally in wood, the homes were made of adobe construction and surrounded by walls, not unlike the walled homes that line the Valley today.
Although none of these original organic buildings exist, the museum has several replicas that provide physical facsimiles. What is not duplicated are actual remnants of sites that housed structures built by the Hohokam. Possibly used as civic structures, or as places for ceremonies, the mounds of earth that currently shelter the original site are on view providing a window into the past.
Taking full advantage of South Mountain’s own unique treasures, the museum offers tours of the park focusing on rock art. As inscrutable as an Egyptian Sphinx, the Hohokam left symbols on rocks throughout the area. Exactly what they mean may remain a secret, however, their visual creations are visible reminders of their presence. Form October to April, the museum offers hikes through South Mountain Park showcasing these captivating creations.
“A lot of people want to see what it looked like before all of the buildings went up,” says Bianca Hernandez. Visitors to the Museum won’t have to wonder if they view the Changing Gallery’s current exhibition “Flight Over Phoenix,” which runs until early September.
Offering periodically new shows, the gallery’s current offering features reproductions of photos taken of Phoenix and the surrounding area back in the 1930s. For those that have wondered what the area looked like before massive construction, with this show you can see just how much things have changed. This exhibition marks the first time these images have been viewed by the general public since the 30s. The collection is from the Smithsonian Institution.
As with any museum, there are always opportunities to help out. If you are interested, they actually have “mud slingers,” who apply mud to the site, under careful direction to insure that the site remains preserved. If there are other areas that interest you, the museum is always looking for a few good people to lend a hand.
Open to the general public, and immensely affordable: $2 for adults, $1.50 for seniors and $1 for children, this is an accessible, enlightening and hands-on way for Valley residents to learn more about the rich history of Arizona while learning how important it is to preserve the legacy of those that came before us.
Pueblo Grande Museum and Archeological Park
4619 East Washington Street
Phoenix, Arizona 85034
Recorded Information: 602-495-0900
Voice Information: 602-495-0901
Museum Hours Monday through Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.
Sundays 1:00 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.
( Please allow one hour for visits )