Abby, Eyra and I (Clark) kicked off our journey of visiting as many National Parks, monuments and small towns around the U.S. by visiting the amazing National Monument known as Effigy Mounds in Northeast Iowa. Effigy Mounds in a sacred Native American burial site that contains numerous animal shaped mounds. To many of us the mounds will only look like hills or random bumps coming out of the ground, but that random bump has a secret of its own and once the mound is analyzed and you give your map a second look, your mind will begin to pick up the pieces and eventually give the mound its shape. Some of the mounds are in a shape of a bear, bird, lynx, bison and more. Those mounds are the final resting place of Native Americans, a sacred monument that will take your breath away.
First of all, Abby and I really wanted to visit Effigy Mounds National Monument since we have heard so many positive things about the park by many friends. That being said, I became more curious of the park and bought a book about the U.S. National Parks & Monuments and the images of Effigy Mounds shown on my book looked incredible. Soon after, both Abby and I decided to pull the trigger and concluded that Effigy Mounds was going to be the first park to visit and to kick off our yearlong National Park, monuments and small towns adventure. Secondly, we had to take advantage of the weather, since the weather was going to cooperate with us by getting a blistering hot day of 12 degrees in January, which in Northeast Iowa during the Winter is pretty rare and not to mention that we were the first ones to arrive at the park that morning.
Abby, Eyra, and I were greeted by the park ranger who asked if we were planning to hike up to the mounds? I replied, well yes of course! I explained that we drove 3 ½ hours just to get there. The park ranger said “Wow! you guys are brave, because its super cold outside!” and I felt that she (park ranger) gave us a look of “you can’t be serious”. I can see where the park ranger’s confusion may have been since we walked in to the visitor center practically wearing summer clothes. I don’t know what threw her off, maybe the flip flops or the muscle shirt because I’m super buff! Haha, I kid. No, Eyra was not wearing summer clothes, she was bundled up pretty good. I just smiled and asked for a map followed by a series of questions, mainly where the bathroom was because, boy!!! Sitting in a car for 3 ½ hours will sure do it for you.
The park is pet friendly but the pooches must be leashed at all times and you don’t have to pay a cent for the services offered. The admission, the museum, the trails, the park’s cinema, all of it is free of charge and donations are always welcome. I gathered our gear and began prepping for a cold and sunny hike. Once the park ranger saw us getting dressed and turning Eyra into a human burrito covered in her snow gear, I’m pretty sure the park ranger was beginning to have a change of heart by turning her lack of faith into a believer. I’m glad the park rangers care and worry for its visitors, I approached her and I thanked her for the information and the park ranger added by saying, “Be careful and stay warm but before you guys go, let me tell you what other areas of the park you can also see”. Change of heart? Fo sho!!!
Turns out that there is no maintenance at the park during the Winter and yes, WARNING “the trails are super icy and slippery”. Just ask Abby’s butt and my knee, we both had a close encounter with the ice as we both ate it. Eyra however, she enjoyed the ride on my back and kept saying “wow”. The beginning of the trail starts out from the visitor center and you can instantly see 3 small, circular mounds right in front of Bluegill Pond. I honestly couldn’t quite see them as there was snow covering the mounds. As we proceeded to Eagle Rock, the trail starts out to be semi-steep, which I am sure during the Spring or Summer the trail is a breeze (simple) but boy!!! Let me tell you, it was so icy that I was considering aborting the hike, especially since I had our daughter on my back. It took us about 30 minutes to get to Eagle Rock which is 0.8 miles. It shouldn’t have taken us that long but as the saying goes, slowly but surely. Eagle Rock is a key section because you get to see an amazing scenic view of the South side of Effigy Mounds and the killer view of the Mississippi River, in addition to being close to a pretty big compound mound. That mound has a plaque that explains how the mounds were created and provides a brief explanation on what artifacts were within the mound and what its purpose was.
Fire Point is one rad section as it gives you a sick view of the Mississippi River in addition to a clear view of Iowa’s neighboring state of Wisconsin which is just on the opposite side of the Mississippi. I’m pretty sure we hiked the trail backwards because we started to hike from what it appeared to be the end of Little Bear Mound Group trail and instead took Fire Point first since the trail splits into two trails. There are 19 circular compound mounds and a linear mound shaped as a bear, that’s when Abby and I realized that we should have come during the Spring or Summer because we couldn’t quite see the mounds with detail as they were all covered in thick frozen snow. Despite being so cold and snowy we had a great time admiring the amount of detailed work that the Native Americans had done for their loved ones and what better way to release the deceased soul back into nature. My respect for the Native American culture grows stronger every day and admire them for continuing to thrive and maintaining their beliefs, culture, bravery, sacred rituals and the willingness to share their knowledge and history to the developing world that pushed them away.
Unfortunately, our hike didn’t last as long as we would have liked since the presence of the wind was beginning to show on our faces and with a toddler on board, we didn’t want to risk it. We have limits now! For people that know me, I’ve always had facial hair since my sophomore year in high school, we are talking 14 years looking like sasquatch. Man I’m getting old! I decided to shave since I wanted to try something new and what better time to shave than at the beginning of the year. A fresh year, something new, what can go wrong? Nope! That was a terrible idea. My face was brutally cold and I never knew how well insulated my face was until after my beard was gone. I tell you! The days of wanting to look younger again are way over. Never again!
Effigy Mounds has earned a special place in our hearts and can say with certainty that we will be returning to the National Monument when its warmer to enjoy and see the mounds from a different perspective and next time we will plan to see the majority if not all of the mounds. Effigy mounds we say to you, until next time! Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, you are next.
To be continued…