Tusayan Ruins – An Ancient Civilization at the Grand Canyon

Outside the Tusayan Museum

Did you know there were ruins at the Grand Canyon?

I didn’t! Actually there are literally tons of archaeological sites in and around the canyon. In fact the little map brochure I got said there are 4,000! Most of them aren’t accessible at all however, so it’s nice that the Tusayan Ruins are there for people to easily see up close.

When we first arrived at the Grand Canyon, I opened up the map given to us at the ranger station to see what places we should check out during our stay. Just a few miles from the main visitor’s center at the South Rim on Desert View Drive was a spot marked as Tusayan Museum and Ruins. So we stopped to check it out.

The museum there was pretty small, and there’s much that even archaeologists just don’t know, but it did give a lot of insight into how the people, namely the Ancestral Puebloans, may have lived back then. How they made use of the land and the plants in this area was really interesting. Yucca plants were used for rope, sandals, and baskets, as the plant is very fibrous. They boiled pine needles for tea, which was a big source of Vitamin C, and they ate the juniper berries off the trees(I never knew those were edible!). They also set aside plots of land for gardening.

Clothing, Pottery, and Artifacts on display

 

Outside of the museum it was just a short paved walk around the ruins which looked like low lying mud brick walls that were once buildings. There were plenty of signs that gave more information on the locations. Such as this round dwelling in the picture below, which is called a Kiva. A lot of ancestral people had one of these; it was said to be used for religious ceremonies and meetings.

The paved path around the ruins.

 

Low lying walls of the ruins.

 

This was the Kiva.

In addition to the ruins, there’s also a lot of cool plants and wildlife in the area! Like these pretty purple and yellow flowers(unfortunately I don’t know their names), prickly pear and other types of cacti, and this Plateau Fence Lizard sunning himself on a rock.

Prickly Pear Cactus & Flowers

Plateau Fence Lizard

As we were leaving, we came across this gap in the trees, and there was a sign there explaining that these are the San Francisco Peaks in the distance….San Francisco? I thought we were in Arizona not California! Well, turns out that in 1629 many years before the city of San Francisco was even named, Spanish missionaries came and established a site near these mountains in the name of St. Francis Assisi. Thus people living around there named the peaks after him.

One of the peaks, Humphrey’s Peak at 12,633 ft, or 3,851m, is the highest point in Arizona.

The San Francisco Peaks

16 Comments

  1. I am planning a trip to Arizona soon. Itching to see the Grand Canyon as it’s been high up on my list for the longest time. I was searching for other things to do there as I will be there 4 whole days and your post has been really helpful. The ruins look great and I will definitely add it to my list of things to do. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Oh my goodness! My parents just visited, and I’m most certain that they didn’t know about the ruins. When I do have the chance to visit, I’ll have to make sure to swing by. I love ruins because it gives us a tangible connection to those who came before us.

  3. I have never head about ruins in he Grand Canyon!! I thnk everybody is always so excited with the idea of visiting the Grand Canyon that they forget to research around and found what else they can see nearby!! Im a fan of ruins and history, I would love to visit it!

    1. Yeah there’s always something you don’t know about when you go visit a place! I usually learn a lot afterwards about all the places I missed, but at least it gives a good reason to go back 🙂

  4. The Grand Canyon is amazing for so many reasons, this is definitely one of them. It is a short 5 hours from where I live. We once hiked a trail and were able to see dinosaur tracks!

    1. Oh you’re lucky you live so close to it! I’d definitely be visiting more often if I was only 5 hours away. I’d love to see dinosaur tracks!

  5. Very cool! I was just at the Grand Canyon and missed this! I’m headed backwards soon though so I’ll put this on the to do list! Thank you!

  6. This is so amazing! I love old ruins and seeing a glimpse into the life of yesterday (so to speak). I use to want to be an archaeologist, believe it or not, so this is up my alley!

  7. Wow that’s really cool, I am the same as you had no idea they existed, you never hear anyone mention it when they talk about the grand canyon. Love the lizard pic too, he looks like he’s snoozing!

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