Effigy Mounds – McGregor, Iowa
Officially called Effigy Mounds National Monument, Effigy Mounds is located in the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River a few miles north of Marquette and McGregor, Iowa. Visiting the park is a great opportunity to get some healthful exercise, enjoy a nature walk through a mature northern hardwood forest, experience some great views of the Mississippi River, go “birding” or watch the eagles fly, and learn more about the American Indian mound builders who inhabited the area a thousand years ago.
In addition to the annotated hiking and nature trails that wind around and through the mounds area, the park Visitor Center offers a movie presentation, a small museum, hands-on exhibits, and a nice bookstore with books on birding, wildflowers, eagles, the Mississippi River, and the cultural history of the region. Kids especially enjoy the hands-on exhibits and walking through the museum.
While burial mounds were typical of many American Indian communities across the Americas, the culure found in the upper midwest was unique in that their mounds were shaped in unique ways to resemble various animals found in the area. Bears, turtles, birds, and bisons were among the animals most depicted. Historians can only speculate on the particular significance of the effigies since there isn’t any written records from the culture who built the mounds. From what archeological evidence has been gathered they seemed to have some spiritual or religous significance to certain sects of nomadic Woodland Indians who camped along the river during the summer season. By the time European explorers arrived in the upper midwest the “mound builders” had disappeared replaced by tribes who favored more permanent villages and used agriculture to supplement hunting and gathering.
|At one time the burial mounds were mowed and the grass around them left un-mowed. This made it easier to identify the shape of the various mounds. Policy changed when the Park Service understood the mounds as sacred sites and decided mowing or otherwise disturbing their natural state would be offensive to descendants of these peoples. Various educational markers along the trail help understand the mounds and the exhibits, aerial photographs and movie within the Visitor Center are helpful in perceiving the various shapes of the mounds.Here’s an interesting aerial photo of one mound group|
The walking path to the mounds area starts at the visitor center and climbs the steep bluff to the mounds area which is located a few hundred feet above the river. Right off the bat you get a workout climbing the the path, with several switchbacks before you reach the top. Fortunately there are rustic railings along the path plus occasional seats for resting along the way for those not used to this level of exercise. The path itself is well mulched and is very comfortable walking. Once you get to the top of the bluff, things get much easier.
There’s a network of trails winding through the mounds and leading to several views of the Mississippi River. The longest trail and the one Jo and I have yet to take is to the Hanging Rock. It is 7 miles out and back to that overlook.
We usually visit Effigy Mounds a few times in the year. Our favorites are when the spring flowers are coming out and in the fall when the leaves are changing. We think it would also be a good place to snowshoe in the winter. We’ve often talked about doing a winter trip to the mounds but so far haven’t made good on it. Maybe this winter?
We usually combine a trip to the Mounds with browsing the shops and attractions in McGregor Iowa a neat little river town that has done a good job restoring and saving historic buildings and structures. In our QuiltingPathways River Road website you can see pictures and an article from some of our previous visits to McGregor, Iowa
Links for more information on Effigy Mounds and the Upper Mississippi River
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