The quest continues… I received my map of ancient monuments of the Eastern United States for my birthday a few months ago and now find myself with a semblance of a road map for Adventure! Nobody realizes that Aventure is spelled M O U N D S!?!?!
Our destination this weekend exploring Hopewell Culture is Sinnisippi Park in Northern Illinois. The park has been on my list since our trip to Albany Mounds along the Mississippi River this past winter. We were just a stone’s throw from Sinnissippi Mounds in Sterling Illinois on that trip and I have been trying to make an excuse to make the trip back to the area. Sterling is about 90 minutes due north of Peoria and there has not been much reason to casually plan a trip up that way.
Fortunately, my Wife is a traveler and explorer at heart as well. She made the suggestion that we go this weekend while we had nothing to do. We could have blasted up 74 and bee-lined to I80 for a quick trip. No, we took the long way via 2-lane blacktops (and sometimes gravel) as much as we could on our route. The decision to go slow and scenic was half the trip. For added effect, we went to the Stahl Stable of classic Toyotas and chose the 1997 Celica Convertible. Convertible top down for the whole trip, and playing Oingo Boingo ALIVE, Goo Goo Dolls (old stuff), along with other retro tunes from our trips nearly 30 years ago in our long-gone 1993 Celica Convertible.
Sinnissippi Park is right outside of downtown Sterling to the East. You track higher and higher on the road until you reach the park entrance. I was thankful we were not on bikes! The park sits on a limestone bluff overlooking the Rock River.
The park, as a recreation area, is great and I would have totally played frisbee golf on their amazingly well-maintained grounds. Wide-open lengths of fairways and so many frisbee catchers that I had to wonder if this was a 36 hole course. I think I saw a driving range with 4 baskets setup up in a row. Pretty cool.
We had packed lunch before leaving the house and found that there are lots of great spots to sit and look at the river
when relaxing. Benches, picnic tables, and covered shelters. We decided on a small Pavillion that was unoccupied to set down and eat. This Pavillion had a built-in stove that looked to be from another era. I could not hazard to guess how old this setup was.
Part of the adventure in seeking out ancient mounds is the locations. This grouping, like so many other spots where you find mounds tend to be situated on river bluffs with “long views”. Is that a product of design? Or is it just a matter of these are the last spots unmolested and left for us to view? Probably the latter. Most mound sites, like the ones shown in the map above, ended up on farmers’ property to be pillaged and blocked off by private property laws. Want to get me on a rant? Let’s talk about making burial sites private property!
We drove right past the mounds on our drive into the park and suspected these could be them… But we were not sure and kept going. If you are expecting larger mounds that have a visible impact on the scenery around them. These are not those mounds. Sinnissippi Mounds are a series of 7 or 8 burial “humps” along with some smaller bumps off to the side.
I would love to read some history of the preservation and know who the engineers were who created the park. It had to be done during a time of un-enlightenment. Why do I say that? The problem with this park(in my eyes) is that the park designers placed a roadway through the mounds. While this does let somebody do a drive-by viewing, it’s not nearly as scenic and isolated as other parks. (Albany Mounds is a phenomenal example of respecting the terrain and sanctity.)
The roadway is built on top of the mound complex and the small mounds are literally next to the parking lot. The smaller mounds are next to grills and play areas. They are unlabeled and probably unnoticed as anything more than a hump of dirt by most visitors. It’s not a great demonstration of honoring ancient ruins.
I will issue one more complaint… And seriously… I am not a complainer as a rule!!! The guys mowing the mounds need to slow down. They have made skid marks around trees that have grown out of the mounds creating distracting patterns. Again… No distractions are needed here in this sacred place.
Getting back to the point of the trip. We have only a few spots left of the 100’s shown in the maps of the 1870’s. I am thrilled that this park exists and has been preserved for future generations. I think it could have been done better and I hope in my heart that somebody who runs the park decides that moving the parking lot away from the mounds would bring more power and reverence.
When you’re ready to take it all in. Breath in. Close your eyes. Let it out and remove the cars and frisbees from your mind. You can stand in the line of the mounds facing due West and get a feel for the scope of the project while listening to the rustle of the leaves from the trees that have a breeze from that bluff overlooking the river. This is how it should be when looking at something from 1000 years ago.
Do not let my dissection of the faults of this spot detract your effort to visit. It’s a wonder of Illinois and should be enjoyed and talked about. Check it out if you are in the area!