Gus and I drove to Coolidge today under dusty blue skies that veiled the distant mountains. We visited the Casa Grande Ruins at the north end of the main street in town. A yellow sun burned brightly on us raising the temperature 7 degrees in less than an hour. While I have been here before, it is Gus’ first time. We wander among the ruins of another time. Low mud walls outline the homes that made up the settlement, and towering over all of them is the Casa Grande. The Casa Grande or “Great House” is a four story building 60 feet long that was built with its four walls facing the cardinal points of a compass. During the summer solstice a circular opening in the west wall aligns with the setting sun. Other openings in other walls align with the moon and sun at various times of the year. It is speculated that the great house was used to contemplate the heavens and perhaps as a calendar to determine planting times.
Standing here today under this heated sky I seek shelter in the shade of the Casa Grande. The doors are all barred to prevent vandalism and a steel canopy towers over the ruin to protect it from sun and rain. The caliche walls are home to several birds. I have seen great horned owls in the rafters here before, but today I hear the squawking of starlings coming from the interior rooms. A swallow flies swiftly past and disappears before I can determine the species. A kestrel alights on one of the steel girders that support the roof. Another flies over and lands nearby. The two birds exchange something and the second kestrel flies off with a lizard-like shape dangling from its talons. Meanwhile the first kestrel stares down at us while Gus snaps off a few shots.
I call to Gus and he is able to walk over without scaring the bird away. I watch the bird through my binocs while Gus captures the beauty of this tangerine, black and white male on the fiery orange blossoms set against the dusty blue sky.
The prickly pears are already in bloom here in Coolidge, which tends to be warmer than Tucson, so they are about 2 weeks ahead of us in the growing season (I would guess). The blossoms are buzzing with insect life giving off a steady hum if you get anywhere near the plant. I notice that some prickly pears are blossoming yellow, while others have a flaming orange bloom. The saguaros are putting forth their buds also, looking for all the world like a giant pin cushion with Brussel sprouts stuck to the pins! When the blossoms finally open their similarity to Brussels sprouts will quickly give way to a creamy white- rimmed goblet shape with a yellow pollen center that attracts birds, bees and bats. This fierce desert is alive with color and wildlife in these pre-summer days before the 100 degrees plus temperature will drive man and beast into the shade. Even now the rising temperature is making me know that it is time for us to get into the coolness of our vehicle and head home.
(Some of the information in todays post came from the National Park Service Brochure of the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument)