800 years ago, Paquime sat at the crossroads between the Mesoamerican cultures of Mexico and the cultures of what is today the American southwest. Trade in both directions enriched Paquime, which also borrowed design and architectural elements from both its neighbors to the north, and those to its south. Paquime is known to have traded extensively as archaeologists have found Paquime pottery in sites in Colorado, as well as in central Mexico.
Paquime, sometimes called Casas Grandes (the nearby town name, and name of the valley), is the largest and most significant archaelogical site in northern Mexico or the southwestern United States. The site contains adobe structures similar to those built by the Pueblo people as well as features, like a ballcourt, similar to those in Toltec, Aztec and Mayan sites. Paquime is valued for its unique architectural style, embracing open spaces and employing adobe construction techniques, rounded curves, and gentle arches. Much of the Paquime archaelogical site remains unexcavated.
Paquime was a vibrant indigenous community built by the Mogollon culture between 700 and 1350 AD. Paquime is thought to have been a commercial center that traded between the Pueblo civilizations to the north, and the more advanced civilizations (such as the Toltec) of Central Mexico.
Paquime was a growing community up until its demise in 1350 AD. The reasons for its collapse are uncertain, but may have been due to drought or possibly to war (possibly with the Tarascans), though disease might have played a role as well. Archaeologists have found signs of a massive fire happening in 1350.
Beneath the floors of some of the residential structures, archaeologists found skeletons, leading them to believe that the culture buried its dead within the home. The residential areas of the site are quite extensive with buildings ranging from 1-story to 5-story apartment buildings. Some of the 1-story structures are built clustered around a shared courtyard area where metates and other food preparation tools were found.
One of the most unexpected structures at the site is an aviary. Paquime is thought to have trafficked in tropical birds, buying them from the Toltec traders of central Mexico and selling them to the southwest indigenous groups to the north. Remains of cages can be seen along the wall and site markers show where more than 100 skeletons of parrots and macaws (birds not native to Chihuahua) were found.
The site is dusty and dry with very sparse vegetation (it's a desert environment). Most of the landscape is completely barren.
Flora and fauna
Despite the harsh conditions, a number of species thrive in the inhospitable climate. Cactus are common, with agave, organ pipe, and prickly pear (known as nopal in Mexico). Historians believe the people of Paquime lived by farming crops that could subsist with little water and by hunting mule deer and other animals. You aren't likely to spot any large predators, but armadillos, prairie dogs, and small rodents are common. More than 100 bird species live in the Paquime area, including carrion birds like vultures, as well as roadrunners, which find lizards plentiful. Archaeologists believe that Paquime residents kept macaws, though they are not native to the area. Snakes are notoriously capable of thriving in hot, dry climates and more than 35 species are known to live around Paquime, including 6 types of rattlesnake. Most are nocturnal though and will hide during the day, but it's always wise to be careful of where you walk and don't lift rocks or put your hand in holes.
Paquime is in the Chihuahuan desert. Expect extremely hot and dry conditions in the summer (temperatures here have reached 48° C). Winter nights can become bitterly cold with sub-freezing temperatures. Check conditions before venturing out, dress for the weather, and bring plenty of water.
The easiest way to reach Casas Grandes (Paquime) is by car. Cross the U.S./Mexico border at Columbus, New Mexico. Take Mexico Highway 2 south for about 2 hours (123 miles) to Nuevo Casas Grandes/Casas Grandes.
It is also possible to take a bus. Nuevo Casas Grandes is served by Futura buses from Chihuahua (about 3-1/2 hours, fare 447 pesos (March 2022).
Entry to the archaeological site costs 85 pesos (March 2022). Entry is free on Sundays and to children and senior citizens (over 60). (Entry fee includes admission to the site's museum.)
It's an archaeological site, so you'll be doing a lot of walking. Bring the hiking boots and comfortable socks. A hat will help with the sun.
- Look for Mata Ortiz ceramics (or visit the Mata Ortiz pueblo, nearby). Juan Quezada and his students follow the traditional practices, bringing life to the colors and patterns of relics found in the Paquime ruins. The distinctive style of Mata Ortiz pottery makes it some of the most collectible pottery in Mexico.
Light snacks and drinks can be purchased in the site's gift shop.
More substantial food is available in the nearby town of Nuevo Casas Grandes.
Several bars are in Nuevo Casas Grandes.
- Queen's Bar, Av Benito Juárez 2610, Nuevo Casas Grandes. 8PM-2AM, Thursday-Saturday.. Outdoor patio bar with craft beer and live music.
Lodging is available in the nearby town of Nuevo Casas Grandes. There is no camping or backcountry options available in Paquime.
- Hotel Hacienda, Av. Benito Juárez 2603, Nuevo Casas Grandes, ☏ . Modern rooms, outdoor pool, bar and restaurant.
- Durazno Inn, Av. Benito Juárez 605 (Centro Nuevo Casas Grandes), ☏ . US$35.