New Casa Grande ruins superintendent knows the desert
By Candace S. Hughes
Jason Lott, the new Casa Grande Ruins National Monument superintendent, knows the desert.
He served in Iraq and Kuwait before starting in July at the 472.5-acre protected area.
“It’s really something to be here and see this kind of desert after seeing the sand dunes in Kuwait,” he said.
A member of the Army Reserves, Lott served in Iraq from February 2003-January 2004 as a driver. No one in his unit received serious injuries or was killed, he said.
Lott was integrated resources program manager at Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park in Johnson City, Texas before coming to Casa Grande.
He is paid $62,363 and oversees a $767,000 budget. He supervises 13 permanent and two seasonal employees.
Carol West, chief ranger, was the acting superintendent after Paige Baker left to be superintendent at Badlands National Park in South Dakota.
“I plan to continue the work of my predecessor as far as finding more land,” he said, and is interested in adding 258 acres to the monument through voluntary donation and land swaps.
“Openness is a vital resource and we have less and less of it,” he noted, pointing to bulldozers that could be seen and heard from the monument.
“It’s important to have a buffer to protect from the expansion so there’s a viewscape and skyscape. Visitors need to get a feel for what the landscape was like when the Hohokam lived here and had a ballfield. We are targeting property that has archaeological resources to preserve for the record. It’s important for the nation’s future that the public has this,” he added.
With the structure dating to 1200-1450 A.D., Lott hopes to have a researcher prepare a starscape of what the stars looked like during that time and compare it with today’s night skies.
“Since this was an astronomical observatory for the Hohokam, we want to record what we can right now due to the light pollution that is increasing from Phoenix and Tucson,” he said.
He appreciates Pinal County’s dark skies ordinance and said it is an asset in attempting to keep the area’s night skies available to those who wish to watch the stars.
Lott also plans a site inventory and will hire a preservation specialist to use the latest technology to continue to stabilize the 1,000-year-old ruin.
To appeal to children and adults interested in technology, he wants to offer downloadable podcasts from the monument’s Web site so visitors can do their homework before arriving in the area and can have additional questions ready when they see the monument in person.
He also plans to continue working with the more than 20 members of Volunteers in the Parks, one of whom is a 17-year-old Casa Grande resident.
John Dodson has helped with interpreting the park to visitors and assisted as an information technology specialist by setting up new computers and updating old ones.
He has been volunteering 16 hours a week for two years and graduated from Desert Winds High School in May. He now is taking Central Arizona College classes until he decides on a major.
Dodson, who moved to Casa Grande when he was about 10, saw the ruins soon after his arrival.”It’s just a very cool place. There’s a lot of history. It’s a unique site and the only remaining big house built by the Hohokam,” he said.
“I just came here out in the desert to do something with my free time on weekends and I’m planning to continue volunteering here.
“There’s a lot of growth throughout the entire city and it’s becoming more urban than rural. A lot of visitors are somewhat surprised when I tell them it’s across from Blockbuster,” he added.
The monument will offer classes, talks and other activities for the next few months including a lecture by Kevin Dahl, executive director of Native Seeds/Search at 2 p.m. Jan. 5; demonstrations by Don Wells and Jean Groen, authors of Foods of the Superstitions Jan. 6-7 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; and live raptor demonstrations Jan. 7 at 2 p.m.
Lott was born in Ball,La. and said he is a distant relative of Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss. “I don’t want to be in big cities. I prefer small towns,” said Lott.
He is 36, married and has two children. He lives in Florence to take advantage of breaks during the year round school schedule so he and his wife and two children can travel to other national parks during vacations.
“We have a well worn popup camper trailer and have been to Big Bend, Great Sand Dunes, Rocky Mountain and other national parks,” he said. His kids visit the office occasionally. “They really like to wear the ranger hat,” he laughed.
If you go
WHAT: Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
WHERE: 100 Ruins Drive, Coolidge, near Arizona Route 87-287. Detailed driving instructions are on the Web site.
WHEN: Daily except Christmas 8 a.m.-5 p.m .
ADMISSION: $5 per person. Children 15 and under admitted free.
All facilities and the Ruins Trail are fully accessible.