Effigy Mounds National Monument and Pikes Peak State Park

August 3-4, 2018

Effigy Mounds National Monument

Compound Mound – Conical mounds connected by Linear mounds (like barbells)

Another short hop south took us to Effigy Mounds National Monument. We rolled right into the visitor center with the rig and had no problem parking. It was a wickedly hot day once again. We wanted to do the 4 mile round trip hike to see the Marching Bear Group which has a lot of bear and bird mounds but the heat and steep trail were too much. We opted for a shorter, ranger led, 2 mile round trip hike to the Little Bear Mound Group and Fire Point overlook.

Mississippi River from Fire Point overlook

The hike was informative and we saw some compound mounds before reaching Little Bear mound followed by a long line of conical mounds. There was a beautiful view of the Mississippi River from Fire Point. The Ranger led portion ended there with a Q&A session. We had the option of retracing our steps and taking a short side hike to see the Great Bear Mound but we opted for a swift return to the (air conditioned) visitor center. The mounds are interesting but it is really difficult to actually see the shape of the mound. That requires an aerial shot without the tree canopy which is pretty impossible to get but we found this LiDAR image in the visitor center that gives you a good idea of the layout of the mounds.

LiDAR (Light and Radar) image of the Marching Bear Group


The visitor center was being renovated and their movie was out of commission when we were there but we checked everything out that they had.

The next day we took part in their archaeology event and the highlight there was definitely the atlatl (pronounced rattle-rattle without the “r”). The Ranger apparently got tongue tangled at some point in the past and referred to the weapon as an atlatlatl. Her co-workers had a lot of fun teasing her about her added syllables and continued to add even more. So, how many atlatlatlatlatls can you get in before your tongue gets tied?

Atlatl AWAY!


John and I actually own atlatls. We made them at a primitive skills event years back but this was Chloe’s first time using one. The atlatl is a long dart or spear type thing with fletching. It’s kind of like an arrow on steroids. It has a weighted throwing stick that you launch it with. The ranger gave a talk about the use of atlatls, demonstrated the throw and let everyone practice with them. Fun was had by all but if we were hunting deer for real, the deer would have been safe and we would have been hungry.

Very safe and curious fawn near the visitor center

The interesting question is WHY? Why did the mound builders build these mounds? Most were not for burials. Were they family groupings; did they have social standing significance; were they monuments to something or someone; did they have a religious purpose? Nobody knows for sure. Another WHY is why did they stop building the mounds? There were mound-building cultures spread all over the central and eastern United States but most mounds were round or pyramidal. This grouping is animal effigy mounds.

Humans have lived in the area for over 10,000 years. About 2,500 years ago people started building conical mounds (Woodland Indians). Then 1,400 years ago, they started building effigy mounds (Late Woodland Period). And 850 years ago they stopped building mounds altogether. WHY? Archaeologists say there is evidence that people changed their way of life, move toward more agriculture, new forms of pottery, permanent villages, etc. (Oneota Culture). Over 10,000 mounds were documented in the area in the early 1900s but within 100 years all but around 1,000 of those were destroyed with farming, logging, roads, houses, etc. Effigy Mounds National Monument protects 206 known prehistoric mounds. The most popular are the effigy mounds of bears and birds.

Pikes Peak State Park

Yes, it was named after the same Zebulon Pike. He was sent west in 1805 to explore the Mississippi River Valley and find good spots for military posts to defend the Nation’s newly acquired Louisiana Purchase. He thought this spot on top of a 500 foot bluff was a good one. The government agreed with him in the way that the government often agrees… they built the post on the other side of the river on the prairie near what is now Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin. Pike was sent west again several years later and wound up out near what is now Pike’s Peak in Colorado. I am amazed at the distances that these explorers traveled in the wilderness. But Zebulon Pike wasn’t the first white man to find this spot. That honor goes to Father James Marquette and Louis Joliet. In 1673 they paddled their little canoes down the Wisconsin River and “discovered” the mighty Mississippi. Father Marquette is another of those early explorers that amazes me. We have run into him numerous times on our travels (figuratively speaking).

Yes, I did say 500 foot bluff… in Iowa. The park is in what is called “The Driftless Area”. This is an area of Wisconsin and Iowa that the glaciers missed when they mushed down everything else around those parts. You have miles and miles of relatively flat fields and rolling prairies then the land gets to rocking and rolling with tall bluffs and ridges and deep valleys cut through them.

View across the Mississippi River to confluence with Wisconsin River

The park is on top of one of those tall bluffs. There are miles of hiking trails, a nice picnic area, and some great river overlooks. The overlooks are a short, paved walk from the picnic area. Looking east you can see where the Wisconsin River flows into the Mississippi. This is where Father Marquette paddled in to make his discovery. A trail leads off into the woods and we decided to wander out to another overlook and maybe check out a waterfall shown on the map. Lo and behold, a few steps into the woods we spotted a Bear Effigy Mound. The park has 63 mounds in it, mostly conical and linear but right there, an easy walk from the parking lot, is a good size bear mound.

Bear Mound at Pike’s Peak State Park

The campground was nice, shady and well maintained and we had that all important electric hookup for air conditioning (it was HOT).



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