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For over 1000 years, the Hohokam people made what is now the Phoenix area their home. They built vast networks of canals, setting up irrigated farmland that was some of the most advanced in North America. They also built villages with a variety of structures. While millions of people now live in the Valley of the Sun, the Hohokam were the first to tame this harsh desert land. Today, there are still remnants of their civilization at several sites around Arizona. The Pueblo Grande Museum & Archaeological Park in Phoenix is one of the best places in Arizona to see Hohokam artifacts & ruins.

Getting to the Pueblo Grande Museum

The Pueblo Grande Museum is easy to get to by car or by public transportation via the Valley Metro light rail train. It’s located near 44th Street & Washington in Phoenix, just across the city border from Tempe and right near Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

If your flight to PHX is landing from the east and you sit at a window on the right side of the plane, you can catch a glimpse of Pueblo Grande just before landing.

If you’re looking for things to do at PHX Sky Harbor during a long layover, a visit to Pueblo Grande is easy (as long as you’re fine with passing through security again). Just take the Air Train to the light rail station at 44th & Washington. Pueblo Grande is about a 5-10 minute walk to the east.

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There is a nice path from the intersection to the museum entrance, lined with desert plants including saguaro cactuses. Throughout the grounds, you can spot small wildlife such as birds, rabbits, and lizards.

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Visiting the Pueblo Grande Museum

Inside the main building of the Pueblo Grande Museum (website), there’s a gallery about Hohokam history, as well as a small gift shop with art & jewelry. Admission is $6. The whole visit can be done in about 1 hour, depending on how long you spend in the museum & the trail. A National Historic Landmark that is owned by the City of Phoenix, the Pueblo Grande Museum Archaeological Park is the largest of its kind in the Phoenix area.

The gallery provides a nice overview of the archaeological site. It of course has air conditioning, so depending on your current comfort level, you can either visit it first or save it for the end after you’ve walked around the outdoor trail.

The museum exhibits tell the details of Hohokam history and culture as they are best known. They left the area around the 1450s, leaving these ruins behind. The Hohokam are also known as the Huhugam by the Tohono Oʼodham, who are thought to be their descendants. As you can see, this area along the Salt River had quite a network of canals & villages.

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There are artifacts from Native American archaeological sites around Arizona as well as reproductions of Hohokam items, including pottery, tools, & art.

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The video below details some of the findings from archaeological digs at Pueblo Grande.

In the temporary gallery, there was an exhibit about landscape archaeology. It was interesting to see how technology is leading to new discoveries.

There is also a hands-on children’s gallery.

The Pueblo Grande Museum isn’t huge, but it does provide a nice background about the people who lived in this area for so long.

Walking around the Pueblo Grande ruins

After visiting the museum, there’s a 2/3 mile (1km) outdoor trail that winds around the Pueblo Grande ruins. The trail does not have much shade, so bring sun protection & water, especially during the hot summer months. If you’re unable to make it to Pueblo Grande or if you want a preview, a virtual tour is available here.

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The first section of the path follows the modern Grand Canal.

Pueblo Grande was constructed near the locations of several major canals along the north side of the Salt River. Throughout the region, Hohokam canals stretched some 1000 miles, turning the Sonoran Desert into farmland. It’s remarkable that many of the canal paths first built by the Hohokam in the Phoenix area are still in use today. This connection between the modern world & historic times shows just how advanced Hohokam technology was.

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The platform mound is the centerpiece of the Pueblo Grande ruins. It’s believed that this was the ceremonial and administrative center of the area. You can still see the walls of some of the rooms at the excavated southern end of the mound. The walls were built from granite, sandstone, caliche, and mud. It was one of the largest known structures built by the Hohokam. They built platform mounds every few miles along their major canals.

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The northern end of the platform mound loop passes over unexcavated portions of the site. The Pueblo Grande trail then goes through another loop that features replicated buildings & gardens.

The adobe compound is a reconstruction of what late-style Hohokam homes were like around the year 1300.

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Earlier homes called pithouses were built in the area around 950.

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In addition to creating an impressive farming community through their canal work, the Hohokam also constructed other buildings & sites. These were used for a variety of activities. Not all of the building purposes are known. Sports were part of their society, as the remains of ball courts have been found on the site.

This ballcourt was built & used sometime between 750 & 1200. It is one of only a few excavated & preserved ballcourts in the United States.

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Finally, a small garden demonstrates Hohokam irrigation & planting techniques, using plants that have been historically grown in the area.

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Phoenix has a reputation for being a place where everything is new & there’s not much history. However, that’s not the case at all at Pueblo Grande. These platform mound Hohokam ruins date back over 500 years. Some archaeological sites in the region are over 1000 years old.

As you walk around Pueblo Grande, the roar of jet engines from planes taking off & landing at Sky Harbor airport is almost constant, quieting only to be replaced with the rumble from the nearby freeways. In this little island of history, Pueblo Grande can seem like an afterthought these days. But over 500 years ago, it was the center of local activity. Whether you live in the Valley or you’re just visiting, it’s nice to take an hour or two to step back from the modern world & learn more about this historic place.

For more Native American history in Arizona, visit Montezuma Castle & Montezuma Well.

Here are some great Phoenix tours & other things to see & do in the Phoenix area.

If you’re looking for a place to stay after visiting Pueblo Grande, check out these Phoenix hotels.

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