July 5, 2015

7/3/15 - Effigy Mounds NM

You may not have heard of Effigy Mounds National Monument.. I don't think a lot of people have. It's in the northeast corner of Iowa, just across the Mississippi River from Wisconsin. The 200 plus mounds were built by a culture now known as the Effigy Moundbuilders, and most were built 850-1,400 years ago.

Near the entrance was a really cool evergreen. It had lots of big heavy cones hanging down on droopy branches. We asked inside later but the Rangers didn't even know what I was talking about. It's a cool tree--don't know why other people haven't asked about it before. One said it was a blue spruce, but we don't think so. So at this point it's a mystery tree. Maybe you know what it is? (There are more pictures on the link below.)
Okay, on to the Visitor Center. They have a museum and a video. The ranger suggested the trails to take and viewpoints to check out. (I asked her about the mystery tree, but she admitted that she'd only been here since yesterday and hadn't a clue. Bet she knows next time someone asks!)
They have a little museum with Indian artifacts and history of the area. I wish I'd paid more attention to the display on the types of mounds...it would have made it a little easier to identify them once we got on the trail. On the other hand, I have a brochure.

The mounds are sacred as an Indian burial and ceremonial ground. First mounds we saw were just outside the Visitor Center. There are three conical mounds here. They're probably the oldest ones. This is one of the few where there's a platform, so you can actually pick out the mounds. It gets harder...
There are four types of mounds:
  • conical--which are just domes of earth covered with grass
  • linear--longer, sort of an elongated oval 
  • compound--2-7 conical mounds joined by linear mounds, almost like a connected set of dumbbells
  • effigy mounds--in the shapes of animals
In the 1800s a survey located over 10,000 mounds in this part of Iowa. But most of them got logged and plowed up in the next hundred years, so there are fewer than 1,000 left. Hence, this park.

The picture is of a compound mound. You can see the conical section on the right and the linear part stretches a long way through the trees. It really helps that they don't mow the mounds. These are actually older than the conical ones, and they think they might be a transition from conical to linear. I would have thought that linear came next, then the joins. I don't know who figures this stuff out.
I know this is Little Bear Efffigy Mound because there's a sign. Once upon a time they outlined the whole thing in rocks but it's still hard to get the perspective from ground level. Many of the rocks are missing, so that makes it more difficult. They don't know much about why they were built this way. Personally, I wonder how the mound builders were able to even figure out how to do something this size (80' long x 40'). The effigy mounds are the newest mounds. The brochure says they were possibly "religious sites or clan symbols used for seasonal ceremonies." (It's Iowa, for Pete's sake! Who'd want to figure out where the mounds were in drifting snow?)
Just a little further down the trail is Great Bear Effigy Mound. He must be the one on the park sign because his head is on the right side; most of the others face the other direction. He's the biggest one left in Iowa--137' long and 70' wide at the shoulder. Theoretically the front feet are that first lump and the head is in the background. I think you need a drone to be able to figure him out. I walked all around the thing and could barely identify a leg.
We went back to the trail junction to go to Fire Point. The trail paralleled a long series of conical mounds.
After wandering through the woods, we finally got to Fire Point, just across the Mississippi River from Prairie du Chien in Wisconsin. It's the day before the 4th of July so the party boats are starting to gather.
The trail then goes along the bluff to Eagle Rock and then inland back to the Visitor Center.  There are sometimes eagles there, but since I was, they're weren't.
Elsewhere in the park are some bird effigies and a line of what they call "Marching Bears", a series of little bears wandering through the woods . They were all in more obscure parts of the park and it was too hot and muggy for that much hike. Besides, one mound in the woods was beginning to look like every other mound in the woods. Interesting at first, but eventually you begin to think that whatever reason the Indians had for building them, you had to be there...

About 6 miles south of Effigy Mounds is Pikes Peak State Park. (No, not the one in Colorado!) Father Marquette and Louis Jolliet were here in 1673 (Father Marquette NM).  Lt. Zebulon Pike was here in 1805. (I think he must have gone to Colorado next.) The bluff on the Iowa side is 500' above the river--not much of a peak, but you can see where the Wisconsin River flows into the Mississippi.
More pictures of the mounds here:  Effigy Mounds Natl Monument

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