Casa Grande Ruins and the Peak

Picacho Peak SP, AZ

Since our last post we have traveled from Borrego Springs in southern California into south central Arizona.  Like most full-time RVers we don’t like to drive too far in one day, so the first leg of our journey was only about 130 miles to Yuma, where we stopped for a night.  The next day’s drive was about 180 miles to Casa Grande, AZ where we had a reservation for four nights at the Casa Grande RV Resort.

We spent most of our time in Casa Grande cleaning the motorhome inside and out and visiting the grocery store.  But one day we drove 20 miles east to the town of Coolidge for a visit to the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument.

As we entered the visitor center the ranger on duty said that a guided tour was just starting out in the Interpretive Ramada, so we quickly made our way there and joined the group.

The national monument consists of the ruins of multiple structures surrounded by a compound wall constructed by the ancient people of the Hohokam period, who farmed the Gila Valley in the early 13th century.  “Casa Grande” is Spanish for “big house” and refers to the largest structure on the site, which is what remains of a four story structure that was abandoned by the time European explorers visited the area in 1450.

In 1902, a Ramada was built to shelter the ruins from weathering.  In 1932 that cover was replaced by a more open one seen in the photo above.  An interesting (to some people) note is that the structure was designed by Boston architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., the son of Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect most famous for the design of Central Park in New York City.

In the last few years three Great Horned Owls have taken up residency in the rafters of the Ramada.  We could see them sleeping just over our heads.

Following our stay in Casa Grande we headed south just 30 miles on I-10 to Picacho Peak State Park.  The park sits about mid-way between Tucson and Phoenix  and surrounds a prominent 1,500 foot peak.  We stayed in the park last March intending to hike the peak, but a sore leg hobbled the nimble hiker and prevented her from hiking.  But now we are back, healthy and ready to conquer the peak!

The Peak looking from our site in the campground

There are two trails that go up toward the peak.  We decided to take the Sunset Vista Trail up, then return on the Hunter Trail.  The Sunset Vista Trail is just over three miles long and begins at the northern edge of the park, a mile walk from our site in the campground.

Sunset Vista Trailhead

Once we walked to the trailhead and got on the trail, we climbed up the west side of the peak through a desert filled with Saguaros.

We hiked around a hillside as Picacho Peak came into view.

Are you sure you want to do this?

As we got nearer to the approach to the peak the trail began gaining elevation and became very rough.

Arriving at the base of the peak we came to our first obstacle, a wall of rock about thirty feet high going almost straight up!  Cables running up the rock were needed to make the climb possible.

Once up that challenge we came to the junction of the two trails.

We turned to the south, anxious about the challenge ahead of us.  The trail began a climb sharply up the rock, made climbable (is that a word?) by more cables attached to supports drilled into the rock.

The use of gloves is recommended for this climb.  We brought gloves with us but found that they slipped on the cable, so they went back into our packs.   We found the cables to be very smooth and were able to use them with our bare hands with no problem.  We suspect that the cables may have been replaced recently as they were in great shape.

A very narrow”bridge” helped climbers over the last steep section

Once at the top we were treated to a 360 degree view of the desert around us.

“Lunch with a view” (the arrow marks our RV site)

The view to the south (Tucson was visible with binoculars)

The hike up was a real challenge, so the trip back down promised to be equally exciting!

A technique not found in the hiking books!

We returned on the Hunter Trail, which is much shorter that the Sunset Vista Trail.  But, while shorter, the trail goes steeply down the face of the mountain and is very rough.

Once finally down to the road we had a walk of over a mile to our motorhome.  Wow, this was one very challenging, heart stopping seven mile hike!

Late one afternoon during our stay here a brief, light shower occurred while the sun was breaking through the clouds.  That combination formed a beautiful rainbow just to our south.

Dave and Sue were also in the park at a site near us and one afternoon they invited us to share happy hour at their site.  While enjoying some good conversation, we were treated to a great show as the sun set over the hills.  As it went down in the west, it lit up the mountains to the east.

Then the sky to the west lit up in beautiful colors!

Tomorrow we continue our journey south to Tucson where we will spend the holidays at Lazydays KOA.

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71 Responses to Casa Grande Ruins and the Peak

  1. Dick Savage says:

    Wow. I think I will leave that hike to you young folks. Nice job and pictures.

  2. Jeff says:

    As usual great blog, so glad to see your pictures … this hike is so now NOT on my bucket list 🙂
    Awesome as it is …

  3. Sue says:

    I’ve never seen you look as tired as when you came in after that hike (I use the term loosely…it was really a climb not a hike). It didn’t look like fun to me, although I did enjoy seeing your pictures!

    Cool to see those owls!


    • placestheygo says:

      I don’t believe I’ve ever been that tired either after a hike. This hike was not only a physical killer but really had me mentally worried. I think that took a big toll. It was neat knowing we could do it though…but only once:)

      The three owls were my first wild owls. It was very exciting!

  4. Jim and Barb says:

    Whoa! I would like to think that we would do that hike but it looks pretty grueling and intense. I will put that one on our list but with an asterisk.

    • placestheygo says:

      You can do it! Just pick an off season time so you don’t have a line waiting at any of the major cable climbs. That would have really done me in if I had felt pushed. It was neat to see what we are capable of, though. And I DON’T need to do it again:)

  5. Lenore says:

    I don’t know which was more spectacular: the view from Picacho Peak or that sunset. I know which one was easier to see! What an incredible climb. I wonder if that’s the hardest one you’ve done. Your braver than I am.

    • placestheygo says:

      Yes, Lenore, this was our most challenging hike because of all the steep cable climbs. We’ve never had that many cables before. Mainly we only run into chains for a narrow ledge. It was an incredible climb and I’m glad to say it is over:) The sunset view sure was a whole lot easier:)

  6. Sandra Silva says:

    OMG that was a heart stopping hike. Congratulations for enduring it and coming out in good condition.

    Hope your stay in Tucson for the holidays is all you hope for. May your Christmas be Merry and you New Year continue your adventures and good health.

    We are looking forward to moving to Palm Springs soon. I had my final visit with the orthopedic surgeon and he says healing is going well. I am walking without any assistance (walker or cane) but it is still slow and a bit painful.

    We are planning a trip to Carmel on Wednesday to enjoy the Christmas displays, take the dogs for a run on the beach and enjoy a delicious meal at one of their fine restaurants. I am hoping we even have time to take the 17 mile drive along the ocean.

    We will be having a ham dinner at Sam’s for Christmas. And then will be spending New Years in Lancaster with my cousin.

    Keep the emails coming and having fun.

    Lots of love Sandy and Bob

    Sent from my iPhone


  7. paul weaver says:

    NOPE…..not for us! First of all, who installed those cables and I’m not sure I would trust them with my health & life. :-0 Marsha wouldn’t even watch you go up there, let alone go there herself. We’ll leave those to the 20 something crowd! Be safe! 🙂

  8. Becky says:

    Way to go on hiking the Peak! Picacho Peak is such a great little state park; we hope to get back there in February. Thanks for the great pictures from hike.

  9. wiandflbev says:

    That was a challenging hike. Thanks for sharing the play by play with all of us. Wonderful photos.

  10. That’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime hikes isn’t it…once you’ve done it, there’s no need to repeat it!

  11. Gay says:

    What a treat to see the horned owls…
    Kudos to you and John. What an adventurous hike/climb that one was.

  12. Rick Garboden says:

    That was an amazing hike. I would never get the wife up there. I would love to try it though. Great post about it, Thank you.

  13. Surviving Picacho Peak may not be your best hike but having conquered it should make you glad you did it and not wondered about that trail. And to think I was about to suggest to hike this with you again when we get to Tucson 🙂 Congratulations!
    I would love to see those horned owls, what a treat to see them up close.

  14. Maxxtrails says:

    Congrats on making it to the top, we wimped out last year and turned around!

  15. Fabulous write-up and great pictures! We debated about doing that hike when we were there recently. Of course Norm was all over it but I was a bit hesitant. Congratulations! Enjoy Tucson and Happy Holidays!

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks:) I do believe you were the smart one, Lisa:) It was a very interesting climb!

      Yes, Lazydays has two huge solar covers over 30 spaces in the park. We’ll take photos and include it in a blog post. They create a lot of shade which this time of year isn’t exactly welcome with the cool temps.

      Happy Holidays to you and Norm:)

  16. debbiemc14 says:

    Challenging is right! I think I’d like to give that one a go. You make it look so easy though. The evening pictures made a great finish to a fabulous day!

  17. Hey we see Lazy Days KOA starts their Solar Shade Technology on Wednesday. Let us know all about it!

  18. exemplify says:

    What a really interesting hike – will have to put that one on my ever growing list!

  19. girlonahike says:

    Wow, this looks like an awesome trail! Alicia @

  20. pmbweaver says:

    Gorgeous header photo dear friends.
    Those are huge owls! Wow.

    Oh dear Lord. As I said on Facebook, we will not be doing that hike. The view is gorgeous, but I just don’t think I could handle those cables. It looks very scary. Your descending technique of that peak, Pam, is very interesting. I would have never thought to try that technique…what do you call that?

    I don’t even know if there is a word to describe that sky. I’ll use fabulous.

  21. geogypsy2u says:

    WOW!! That is quite the climb. I didn’t know my ancestor designed that cover. Way cool!

  22. Sherry says:

    That’s a rare RV park that will let you wash your rig. Poor Winnona so seldom gets washed because we don’t seem to find parks that will let us or do it yourself places big enough for her. Casa Grande looks very interesting. Love the Great Horned Owls. You two really are brave, the pictures of how far up you are as you climb up those cables………wow! I think I’d rather do the short steep on the way up than on the way down. I seem to always have more trouble going down steep slopes than up. Congrats on that accomplishment for sure.

    • placestheygo says:

      We usually have trouble finding places to wash the MH. But lately we seem to be able to wash at each location which is nice with all this dust!

      The owls were very cool!!

      This hike was steep and tough going up and going down. Every step was rocky and steep. My knees didn’t like the steep down at all.

  23. Jodee Gravel says:

    Not only the climb but stopping to take those heart-stopping photos – pretty incredible. I need a t-shirt that says “I have a friend who Hiked to the Top of Picacho Peak” as we know I’ll be no where near that trail 🙂 Still, we look forward to staying there some time. That sky was beautiful, great pics.

    • placestheygo says:

      It’s funny you should mention some of the photos. I was trying to get John to do certain photos as the worst places. Needless to say, he didn’t always cooperate:) Glad we could take you and Bill to the top! You’ll really enjoy the park. You can just go walk among the saguaro without a trail. I did this one evening and went about two miles just wandering. There are also a few less challenging hikes:)

  24. Laurel says:

    WOW!!! Thanks so much for the great photos and description of the Picacho Peak hike. That’s one we’ve thought of doing for several years. We did a short hike in the park when we stopped for lunch a couple of years ago and I tried to talk Eric into the cable hike while we were there. He said, “Are you crazy? We can’t do that hike in an hour!” Haha! I guess not! After reading about your adventure, I wish it was one we could say we’ve already done, because I’m not sure we’ll do it now….You guys are awesome! 🙂 Love your owl photos, too.

    • placestheygo says:

      An hour wouldn’t have even come close for completing this hike, Laurel:) We left the MH at 11:00 and returned at 5:00!! Of course, we had a mile walk to the trailhead and a mile walk back to the MH. But that only took about 40 mins total. This is a slow, long hike/climb. But it is an interesting adventure:) You need to try it one day:)

  25. Kim Nowell says:

    Just signed up to receive your blogs and looks fantastic. Putting this on our list. Had a question that perked our interest. Cant remember which blog I saw your blog mentioned on and they said you were jeep lovers, well were are also and I was wondering if you have any archived posts where you did some “jeeping”? Thank you and we will continue enjoying your blog.

    • placestheygo says:

      Hi, Kim! Thanks for joining us:) I did respond to your comment in our “About” section, but I guess you didn’t see it. We have written so many blog posts on our Jeep adventures. We have a stock Jeep Wrangler Sport so we don’t do any of the trails in Moab for the tricked out Jeeps but believe me, there are plenty of very cool roads and trails for us out west. If you look at our posts from Sedona, Moab, Death Valley, and Anza Borrego SP you’ll see many neat Jeep trips. Many times our Jeep just gets us to trailheads that we want to hike. We have been to Anza Borrego SP several different years and that is where we have had the most fun. This area is loaded with drives through the wash. Many hiking trails require the Jeep just to get to the trailhead. Moab is Jeep central. There are so many trails for all levels of Jeeping. Some crazy things go on there:)

  26. Looks like an exciting hike! Do you ever encounter snakes or other poisonous creatures on your desert hikes? Do you wear protection on your legs? Do you carry anything such as an epi pen?

  27. harleyhawk43 says:

    Good post. You should also check out Catalina State Park in Tucson. Head up Oracle towards Benson. Then, check out Mount Lemmon, 40 miles and 6500 feet up from Tucson. We took our motorcycled up there several weeks ago. Go to for pictures


    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks so much for the suggestions, Hawk:) We have been to this area several times. We enjoy hiking out in Catalina and Sabino Canyon. Mount Lemmon is always a fun trip especially when there is lots of snow like now. We have passed on hiking Angel’s Landing because of the crowds and the dangerous passing along the path. You get an awesome view down on Angel’s Landing when you continue on the West Rim Trail. Someday when the trail is rather empty we will do this hike. The five latest deaths were all women over fifty!!!!

  28. harleyhawk43 says:

    You two need to hike angel’s Landing in Zion. Fabulous and challenging hike.

  29. Nancy says:

    “Brave” is an understatement for the both of you! What a hike!! And horned owls too! I applaud you both! 👏

  30. allisonmohr says:

    Well. That was quite the climb. I was thinking it was doable until that side hill with the really steep drop off. Congratulations to you both on completing it! Have you been out on the trails in the Tortolitas? There is parking (and a restroom) at the Dove Mountain resort. It’s a beautiful part of the desert. One just drives in, tells the guy in the guard shack you’re here to hike, and he’ll tell you where to go. It’s very civilized. From the KOA it’s a little far to get there, but we really enjoyed it. That was our Christmas hike last year.

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Allison:) It was definitely the hardest hike to date.

      We did the Tortolita hike that Hans and Lisa posted on last year. Great hike! I have it on the list for when our daughter arrives for Christmas. Hopefully after we get out a couple miles there won’t be a crowd. Thanks for letting us know about it, though:)

  31. Andrei Grecu says:

    Were you guys hiking in Tucson Mountain Park today 12/18/15? I was mountain biking and I think I saw you, but being with a no nonsense group and not familiar with the trails I couldn’t come over and say hi since they took off right away. Anyway, I’ll say hello here and I wanted to say you are really brave to tackle that hike on Picacho. I enjoy your blog and wish I could have chatted with you a bit, hopefully some other time.

    • placestheygo says:

      Yes, we were hiking in Tucson Mountain Park!! We only saw one group of bikers so that must have been you! We were in search of a young crested saguaro a friend found while biking there last year. She wasn’t sure exactly where it was but thought it was either on the Avery Bryce or Mariposa Trail. But needless to say, after a six mile loop we didn’t find it! Darn! But it sure was a nice relaxing hike after Picacho Peak. Sorry we didn’t get a chance to meet. Thanks for following along with blog:)

  32. Rebecca Salazar says:

    Welcome to Tucson ! I’ve loved living vicariously through your blog ! I started following you when I was doing some research for a trip to Moab last year . I live in Tucson and would love to meet and say hello if you have some down time – maybe even get in a hike. text or call me – 520-490-7248 Rebecca

  33. Somehow I missed this post. Good job on making it to the top of Picacho Peak! My heart started pounding just looking at your photos and remembering my panic attack when we were there. As someone else said, you really would not have any problem with Angels Landing. If I did it, you surely can! Not that I have any desire to ever do it again 🙂

    • placestheygo says:

      I did think of you, Gayle, after our first cable climb coming from the Sunset Vista trail. I sat down and declared that I wasn’t sure I could do this. It was definitely one nervous climb for me. Angel’s Landing itself is not the problem. I was never worried about the climb up. What worried me about this hike was the idea of having to pass people on open ledges going up and down. This is when the accidents happen. Someday if we are there and it doesn’t have a crowd, I would love to do the hike. Picacho Peak didn’t have this danger.

  34. The hike looks incredible. I’m still hiking on 2-3 mile hikes.:) Good find spotting the Great Horned Owls.

    • placestheygo says:

      Good job on being there on the trail:)

      We didn’t actually spot the owls ourselves. The docent at the ruins told us about them so we were looking:) But they were my first wild owls:)

  35. betunada says:

    FAN tastical cloud photos! and thanx for taking your readers along with — the cables up the steep hill remind me of “via ferrata”.

  36. betunada says:

    oh: we had a large owl on top of a power pole a few nights back — made sure our cats were inside!

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