House of the Badlands
Casa Malpais is one of the many ruined pueblos along the southern reaches of the Little Colorado River. It lays within the area known as Round Valley, where the modern towns of Springerville and Eager are situated. Located on a bluff to the north of town, Casa Malpais has a commanding view of the surrounding land, including the fertile floodplain of the Little Colorado River. Before you get to the ruins, though, you need to go by the Casa Malpais Visitor Center and Museum, located on Main Street in Springerville. There are three tours of the ruins daily, and you need to sign up at the visitor center to get on a tour. As the site lays on private land, this is the only way to see the ruins up close. The museum is neat, and when I was last there (2003) they had plans to remodel and move into a larger facility. I don't know if this has come to pass.
Once signed-on to the tour, you follow the guide's vehicle out to the site, passing through a couple locked gates. There's a gravel parking lot with some benches and a pit toilet. There the guide gives a brief orientation to the trail, and you head up, hiking a fairly good trail up several collapsed terraces from the bluff. The first stop is a flat plaza. It may have been used for ceremonies, or for daily activities like trading, grinding corn, and making pots. During the summer solstice, the museum sponsors Hopi and Zuni dances at the plaza.
The tour continues along past roomblocks - some restored, some just mounds, and then leads to a large kiva. Some have suggested that the large size of the kiva is proof of a Chaco link to the northern Mogollon culture, while others see ties to the Sinagua, with the analogy of the large, exposed kiva at Wupatki. The group takes a brief rest at the kiva while the guide explains some of these ideas. What remains of the kiva is very impressive. Its box-shaped, which is unusual for most prehistoric Pueblos, with the exception of the Kayenta Anasazi and the Sinagua. One corner, however, is rounded off - necessity? Or for some esoteric reason we can't grasp any longer.
The tour continues on, past more rooms and some petroglyphs and pictographs. Apparently the modern Zuni and Hopi tribes have some clan affiliations with Casa Malpais, not only based on images but some grave goods as well. The guide stops and talks at the petroglyph site not only about those things, but also the catacombs, a series of now off-limit lava caves under the bluff where the Casa Malpaisians buried their dead. Such a use of caves is unusual in the prehistoric Pueblo world.
Then comes decision time. For those that are adventurous, there is the opportunity to cross the chasm that separates the pueblo and the cliff-slump blocks from the cliff itself. Then, climbing up through a narrow chimney, you gain the top of the cliff, and have a great view of the pueblo, the river, and the valley all below you. In the distance are the White Mountains, and behind you, to the east, the rolling plain appears unbroken. During my last visit, a baby Great-Horned Owl appeared from its cliffside nest and walked around in broad daylight.
While upon the lofty perch, our guide tried to push for the location being built not for defense. After all, he argued, why build it up against a cliff, but then have an unguarded plain to your back? I disagreed - there was still a cliff, and a chasm that prevented invaders from the open plain from descending on the Pueblo. Unless they could fly, there was only one way down, and it could be easily guarded.
Individual conversations flitted for a bit, enjoying the view all around. Finally, we headed down through the chimney again to meet up with those who didn't want to attempt the somewhat trying ascent. We headed back down the slope by a different route, again passing several roomblocks. There were still potsherds laying around, though many previous visitors had thoughtlessly piled them onto the corners of rooms, or tall boulders to display to the future visitors. I found out that previously it was possible to tour Casa Malpais alone, without a guide, but events like the moving and removal of potsherds forced the museum to go to a guided tour only option.
Some archeological equipment was also present. Our guide said that field schools still came to the pueblo occasionaly to do research.
Our last stop was at an apparent shrine that served to monitor the progress of the sun and mark the solstices. It was a broad, cleared area with a rock berm, and from it, you could see the petroglyphs that were the markers. Apparently. I wasn't able to see the petroglyph (a bear's paw) during any of my visits, though I admit to being distracted by a large collared lizard once. Finally we left the site and returned to our cars. Most of the guides are college students working a summer job back in their hometown, and they appreciated tips. Our visit to the site was over.
A few quick notes: The museum costs five dollars to get into (except when its hosting guest lectures), but the tour of the ruins itself is free, provided they aren't full for the next tour. In summer 2003, the tour times were 10, 12, and 3. There is water available at the museum (and at many other places in Springerville), but none at the parking lot or trailhead. The phone number for the museum is (928) 333-2123, call ahead to see if they are hosting any special guests, or if the tour times have changed (they often have fewer tours in the off season).
Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.
NPS Reports Statement of Significance (as of designation - July 19, 1964): Situated on terraces of a fallen basalt cliff along the upper Little Colorado River, the site dates from late Pueblo III to early Pueblo IV (1250-1325 AD) times. Casa Malpais appears to incorporate features of both early and late Mogollon Culture settlement patterns.
Condition: Ten of the prehistoric rooms have been left open, which has resulted in the collapse of several walls
The town of Springerville has been awarded a Challenge Cost-Share grant in the amount of $30,000. An additional $62,000 of matching funds will be provided. The grant will be used to record the current condition of the site, stabilize all exposed walls, backfill areas that are not essential to an effective interpretive program, correct existing site drainage patterns, redesign the interpretive path through the site, and develop a long-term stabilization program toward keeping the site in good repair. The site now has an indoor toilet facility and shaded picnic tables, located adjacent to the parking lot.
Recommendation/Change since last report: Backfilling of the 10 open rooms is essential in order to prevent further wall loss.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.