Sometimes I want to talk about museums; other times I don't know if it would be weird to blog about museums (but when has weirdness ever stopped me from blogging about something?). So I've decided to try out a new series (which won't run on any type of schedule) in which I talk about various museums and places of that sort, just to give my impressions and any thoughts I might have.
Today's location is Pueblo Grande Museum, which is part of the City of Phoenix Parks and Rec. The crazy thing about Pueblo Grande Museum is that it's one of the sites of Hohokom ruins--sitting right up against Sky Harbor International Airport and Downtown Phoenix. After you go through admissions and step outside to the trail, you're in a curious mixture of emptiness/isolation and city-ness. At one point in the trail, you might feel like you're out in the middle of a wide open space. At another point, you're almost a stone's throw from the freeway--or maybe an airplane passes by just overhead.
If you read all of the information on display throughout, you'll come across some critiquing of kind of the very fact that there is a museum there. Not because of the location but because of culture. These are Hohokom structures but it's an American, not Hohokom, museum. Yet the fact that it is a museum means that these structures are preserved and protected, even though they're sitting in such a "valuable" part of town. (And I'm not replicating what the displays said; I'm probably adding plenty of my own commentary.) One of the problems seems to have been that the initial excavation wasn't exactly perfect and so later steps had to be made to undo what had been done. That, of course, brings up the question of whether such an excavation should even be done--though it's a roundabout question because without the excavation, this whole place probably would have been destroyed for development.
As a place to go as a visitor, though, what is it like?
The trail outside is 2/3 mile. So not long, but still probably best to visit at any other time of the year than May through September. The main feature is the platform mound, which is currently only excavated on one side. The ball court was probably my favorite; it's also kind of a rarer piece. Then there's the irritation canal, which is always fascinating as the link between the far past, the recent past, and the present. (Phoenix was named Phoenix because the city, through those same canals, rose up from the ashes, so to speak, of what was left of the previous civilization.) There are also some replicas of Hohokom homes from different periods in time; these would be nice to see, I suppose, for people who are visiting from other parts of the country or the world and are completely unfamiliar with dwellings like this. For children, too. For myself, though, I didn't feel like I really needed the replicas.
The museum exhibit indoors isn't big but does have some good information if, again, the Southwest is unfamiliar to you or if you just want to refresh. While their pottery collection was of course not on as large of a scale as what the Heard Museum has, they had some nice pieces. I felt like I hadn't really seen much of this style before because I found myself loving the colors and shapes. There was a lot of emphasis on the trade that went on among the different tribes, resulting in things like shells and chocolate ending up in regions that are now the American Southwest. I appreciated that because sometimes we think we're so modern and that everything we can do now is more than or better than what people in the past could do--when that isn't really the case.
The changing exhibit had some information about attitudes toward archaeology. There were some quotes from Native American people about the difference between archaeology by Native Americans and non-Native Americans and about the importance of the land to them. Very interesting quote there about mountains as being the constant between the past and the present because they are what remains unchanged--and also the subsequent problem with cutting into mountains for modern development (I am doing no justice to how he worded things, and if I had known I would be referencing his quote, I would have written down his name). (Also, I've just realized that it was after reading this quote that I dreamed that they had dynamited off the top of Mingus Mountain, which is the mountain over the Verde Valley up north. That was a devastating thing to dream.)
So if you do take the time to read all of the displays, there is some good information and commentary both gathered there. Granted, I know not everyone wants to do that. While I was standing there reading everything, a pair of people came through to just literally walk through (which doesn't do much good because you can't actually read anything in that way). One of the reasons why museums are in fact a good place to visit by yourself and when you're not in the least bit of a hurry. Even though this is a small museum and I was expecting to spend less time there (they recommend allowing an hour and a half), I think I spent about an hour and forty-five minutes (and I didn't read absolutely everything in the main gallery).
Definitely, then, Pueblo Grande Museum is worth a visit. If you live in the state, you'll want to stop by at some point. And if you're visiting and it happens to be one of the nearby places that focuses on Native American history, then it's also an important stop. I'm kind of focusing here on what the museum does offer rather than what it doesn't.