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A mysterious house in the desert

In the midst of the Arizona desert, near Coolidge, the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is a tribute to the Hohokam Indians and their culture ñ one that thrived more than 1,000 years.Casa Grande had been abandoned for more than 200 years when Father Eusebio Kino, a Jesuit missionary, discovered it in 1694. He named the structure, which is one of many ancient buildings ñ many unexcavated ñ on the 448-acre site. At one time, Casa Grande was linked with other Hohokam villages scattered throughout Arizonaís Gila Valley.rArcheologists say that salinized soils caused crop failures, which forced the Hohokam Indians out of their villages. Early recordings by the nearby Pima and Tohono Indians indicated that war between the tribes led the Hohokams to leave the area. Yet, others say that a flood destroyed the Hohokamís canal systems, which is hard to imagine considering that today the area receives as little as three inches of rain each year.The Hohokam Indians built Casa Grande in the 1200s using caliche mud, which is a combination of calcium carbonate, gravel, sand, clay and silt. Itís also known as hardpan. Casa Grande is a four-story building about 60 feet by 40 feet, with the base of the walls over four feet thick. The four walls face north, south, east and west, and a circular hole in the upper west wall aligns with the setting sun during the summer solstice. Stairways and beams made of white fir, ponderosa pine, juniper and mesquite are visible to visitors, who are allowed to view the structure from the outside only. More than 600 beams support the ceiling.Archaeologists concluded that Casa Grande was built as an astronomical observatory. Artifacts found at the site indicate the building may have been the home of a person of great importance, such as a chief or a religious leader.Efforts to protect the ruins began as early as 1865. In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison established the Casa Grande Reservation, and, in 1918, President Woodrow Wilson designated the area as a national monument. To shield the ruins from harsh weather, a roof, designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, was added in 1932. As I drove away from Casa Grande, a view of another huge building caught my eye: Wal-Mart, the symbol of modern times. And then I thought, ìAre we as transitory as the Hohokam Indian?î

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