In the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, the lovely Catalina State Park houses ruins of lost civilizations. Catalina State Park was established in 1983, but its history is much older. People were living here as early as 9500 B.C. and in approximately 1500 B.C., the Hohokam (“hoe-hoe-kum”) Indians lived in a village here along the Romero Trail. In the Catalina State Park you can see remnants of their lives on the Romero Trail. The trail is named after the Romero family who built a ranch here to raise cattle but there is an even more interesting story that you can see and learn about while on this trail. There are many trails in this park and the Romero Trail is the shortest and easiest to access.
The area is sited in the flood plains of two major area washes, the Canada del Oro and the Sutherland. From these wash plains, steep banks rise up to flat ridge tops. The Hohokam could depend on the water provided by the washes and built a complex village here above the Sutherland wash, giving us a glimpse into historic and pre-historic times. The Romero Ruin in the largest archaeological site in the park and one of the several large Hohokam villages in the Tucson basin.
The environment here is typical of the Sonoran Desert; mesquite trees, palo verde trees, prickly pear cactus and saguaro cacti. Archaeologists and biologists say the areas plants and trees look today as it would have looked in 1500 B.C. Many animals live here too; the jackrabbit, deer, javelina, coyotes, pack racks, birds, lizards and snakes are easily seen. Mountain lion, big horn sheep and bears are rare visitors but they have been seen here as well.
While on this trail, you will see park signs that tell you more about the history of the area and point out features such as trash mounds, ball courts and the cobble foundations of what was a type of group housing. It is thought that 300 people lived in this village at its peak. Houses about the size of a large bedroom were built for each family and each house faced a central courtyard used by all. Nearby these foundations, you will see large oval depressions in the ground. Scientists think they were used as ball courts, especially used when travelers visited the Hohokam. It is not known why they played these games; for leisure or settling disputes are two theories. Pottery has been found from the Anasazi people and shells from the ocean telling us that they traded from as far away as Colorado and Mexico.
Amazing artifacts still remain on this trail; as you are walking, watch for a metate (grinding stone) that was used to grind grain and mesquite pods (mesquite beans). Pot sherds are also seen frequently along the trail.
Francisco and Victoriana Romero homesteaded this area sometime in the late 1800’s. Their house was likely built on the prehistoric foundations left by the Hohokam. You will see the ruins of their ranch house. Most believe they were scared out of this area by the Apache tribes.
The Romero Trail in Catalina State Park is an easy 1-1/2 mile hike and where the terrain is tough has railroad tie steps built in for easier walking. The initial climb from the wash to the top of the ridge where the trail starts is steep and can leave you winded. There are benches where you can catch your breath and take in the view. If you hike this trail, please “leave only footprints and take only pictures” to preserve this amazing site for future generations.
Catalina State Park is located at 11570 N. Oracle Road, Oro Valley, Arizona. Telephone: 520-628-5798
Archaeology in the Mountain Shadows by Deborah L. Swartz and William H. Doelle, 1996,