This summer my friend Tea which I’ve mentioned before is determined to make up for lost time. Looks as if this is going to be the busiest summer I’ve ever had on the adventure trail so as long as she’s forcing me (well, force is a harsh word) to commune with nature you can look forward to weekly episodes of Fox’s Adventures in Nature. This past weekend was another adventure this time though it was back across the Mighty Mississippi into Illinois. As we started out we had no idea where we were going to end up, but somehow–don’t ask me how–we found ourselves in Collinsville and heading for the Cahokia Mounds.
For those of you unfamiliar with Cahokia Mounds here is a quick lesson in the history of the Mississippi River Valley. The location now known as Cahokia Mounds, named after a sub-tribe of the Illiniwek that moved into the area in the 1600’s, was once a thriving ancient metropolitan city around 6 square miles. Cahokia was larger than London was in AD 1250. The city was inhabited from about A.D. 700 to 1400 and at its peak 10,000 to 20,000 people called it home. Over 120 mounds were constructed over those 700 years, some of which were enlarged numerous times.
The native people of Cahokia who built this magnificent city left behind a legacy that all of us could do with seeing at least once in our lifetimes. For unknown reasons the population began to decline in the 1200’s and within 200 years the city was abandoned. There are numerous theories as to why her people vanished, but no solid given; anything from climate changes to depletion of natural resources and war or disease. The mystery though still entices the archeological community.
The 2,200-acre tract (600 which is open to the public) where the Mounds sit is 15 minutes outside St. Louis and is split down the middle by Collinsville Road. On the left coming from St. Louis is The Interpretive Center, a beautifully appointed building surrounded by nature. The Interpretive Center houses a museum of exquisite quality that includes a walk through display of a village to give the visitor a visual idea of the day to day life of the native people. The sound of flutes and drums in the background along with the soft lighting transports the visitor as they take in the various displays of artifacts including a detailed burial of a chieftain. June-August tours are available 7 days a week of either Monks Mound or the Grand Plaza-Twin Mounds-Mound 72.
Tea and I chose to explore on our own after visiting The Interpretive Center’s museum. That exploration led to what is known as
Monks Mound, the largest earthwork in North America standing at 100 ft tall, that was once the center of this thriving ancient metropolis. Now for those who don’t know me I suffer from degenerative arthritis in both my knees, a family curse, and I also suffered an accident 6 years ago that permanently left me with 2 metal plates and 9 screws in my left ankle. I could easily stay at home and cry about the pain that I suffer, but I don’t. The idea of climbing to the top of Monks Mound although scary was also something I knew I had to do or at least attempt. Tea gets my stubbornness and my refusal to give in to what could turn me into an invalid if I allowed it to. So, we headed out from the parking lot and I snapped the picture on the right after getting out of the car.
There is something incredibly beautiful and peaceful in this place where hundreds of years ago the native peoples lived in harmony with nature. An energy vibrates through the very ground that feeling growing as you approach the staircase that leads to the very top of Monks Mound. This place was the center of that ancient city both spiritually and politically. When we reached that staircase I had my doubts about whether I would make it to the top, but something inside me knew I had to stand at the top of this magnificent remnant of an ancient culture. Perhaps it was the Native American blood that flows in my veins (although you wouldn’t guess it since I have my German father’s coloring).
Standing at the base of those stairs, eyes focused on the top I had a moment of awe slipped through me. What must this place have looked like at the height of Cahokia’s existence centuries ago. As I stood there my eyes drifted shut and I allowed the energy of that place move through me. In those few minutes there was a part of me that could almost hear the voices of the past reach out; the laughter of children, the chatter of the inhabitants as they went about their day. So many voices and such rich beauty my imagination pictured. When I opened my eyes I knew that I would make it up that mound even if the spirits of the dead had to carry me. 😉
I made it to the top and let me tell you–it was breathtaking. From the top, you can see for miles, the trees minuscule in the distance, and even on an overcast day, humidity thick in the air you can make out the skyline of St. Louis, the Arch looking like a toy.
Atop Monks Mound are trails of shale and markers that inform the visitor of the history of this place, but the markers didn’t really need to tell me this place’s history. Standing there looking out across the countryside I could feel it vibrating through me. I was proud of myself for having made the journey and seen the remains of this once great civilization. If one opens themselves up to beauty of a place like this, just breath in and let the energy that vibrates through it speak to them, one can imagine that which haunts the earth itself.
If you’re interested in learning more about Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site or how you can help support the continued protection of this beautiful and mesmerizing place check out the official website at the link below: