What do you do when your son is off and you have your daughter back from school for the long holiday weekend? You take the whole family to Muscatine Iowa and tell them about the cool little river town we are going to explore. Then, halfway there… Drop on them that we are going to hit some “Mound” parks along the way.
They are good sports. Nobody attempted to leap from a moving car! This time.
Muscatine actually is a cool little down with a crossing over the Mississippi River from Illinois. Otherwise, to get to the two mound parks I was looking for would take us to Burlington. Frankly… We have been to Burlington. It’s a cool town, but we have been there a few times and I wanted to explore someplace new. We browsed the little downtown area of Muscatine and picked up a few trinkets. We then got a tip that the Missipi Brewing Company had some good food. We proceeded to get a few mighty big burgers and were completely full and ready for out Mound hunt.
For the record… When I say Mound hunt… I am not going off into the bush looking for unknown mounds. We are respectfully going to known parks. Nothing illegal going on here!
The first stop was Toolesboro Mounds and Interpretive Center. The art store owner in Muscatine had mentioned the interpretive center and how they were looking to add it as a destination to the Iowa River Road tour. I had no idea what to expect as I have been to everything from National Parks, State Parks, and City Parks holding and “Interpreting” mounds. This little building sitting in front of 2 mounds was a pleasant surprise.
The drive is just about 20 minutes from Muscatine. When we arrived, we were the only ones there and the attendant at the center was super informative. Everything was nice and clean and it was nice to see that care was being taken of the space, especially after our recent visit to Sinnissippi Mounds in Sterling Illinois. She did let us know that a recent donation of land had been added to the park. This donation had made a path past the 2 larger mounds into the woods into many more mounds in an unimproved state.
Well… That was an understatement! You couldn’t see much of the 7 or 8 additional mounds that were tucked into the trees. Maybe in the winter when the trees have lost their leaves and the brush had died back. A viewing might be easier then.
I am not complaining. I was thrilled to see the main part of the viewing area’s mounds in good shape and in respectable condition. They did have a lot of tall weeds growing on the mound surfaces. I had noticed that walking up the sidewalk to the center and this was brought up while talking to the attendant at the park. The new policy is to leave the mounds in a natural state. They had planted “buffalo grass” to choke out most everything on the mounds… But some tall weeds were popping up. She didn’t know if that was all part of the plan or not.
There was a great story in the center about how the discovery of the mounds came from the property owners trying to build a house on the tallest mound, only to start digging up artifacts. This was in the 1830’s I believe. It’s definitely a story that would lead to a horror movie these days. Fortunately, they moved the house preserved the native artifacts and remains.
While at Toolesboro Mounds I had made mention that we were headed down to Malchow Mounds. While she had never personally been there, she did say that a few people that morning had. They reported that it was a good walk and maybe it was a bit difficult? Sounded rustic!
One other bit of info I squeezed out was that there are lots of folks who cruise around looking at the mounds. A gentleman from Cincinnati was just there earlier doing the same thing.
See… I’m not crazy after all! There are a few of us who find this interesting!
Malchow Mounds is about 10 minutes further south. An easy drive along a country highway. All the roads today were 2 lane highways and blacktops. We saw a diverse landscape driving along the Mississippi River. River bottoms, rising bluffs, and wetlands being invaded by migrating birds.
Malchow has a very slight pull-off from Hiway 99. You would miss it if you didn’t have a GPS instructing you where to stop. It’s very accurate on the google map location BTW. When we pulled up, another car was blocking the small driveway and we saw the solo gentleman was walking back. This was good, we were parked just off the road in the grass over a big ditch. We asked the kids to see if he could move his car so we could get in the lane to park.
They talked to him for a few minutes and EVENTUALLY, he moved the SUV and took off. We found out from the kids that he was the man from Cinncinatti that we had heard about and had gotten a little spooked by the climb to the mounds. This was why they took so long talking to him and I then felt bad about feeling impatient that he move his car. They also said he had an English accent and was clearly not FROM Cincinnati originally.
The kids got way ahead of Angela and me to the gate for the path and started shouting that this path looked terrible. Maybe we should give up as well?
What??!?! I’m not giving up! We drove 2 hours to get here!
The path is not terribly steep, but it’s a decent incline. It’s thick with midwestern fauna. The path looks like its made more so by dear than by humans treaded through the tall grass. The fact that 3 trees were dropped over and you had to crawl under them made for an exercise in dodging spiderwebs. My family falls to pieces if they are wrapped up in spider silk. Maybe this is an instinctual thing? When their ancestors were attacked by giant spiders. (Like William Shatner) Maybe the man from Cincinnati had the right idea?
When you get to the top of the path you are greeted by a wide-open prairie grass field. Not much to see at first. To the left, you can see the river valley stretching out down the hill. To the right, it’s its more grass and a marked boundary line to a field.
Kinda lackluster other than a beautiful wild pasture at first glance.
Unlike Sinnisippi mounds or any, you have seen that are well-manicured… These mounds are left to the wild. After you get your bearings on what you are looking at, you can see the distinct hills of 4 or 5 larger mounds rolling out in front of you. Again, there is no path. So, if you try to get a perfect view… You are fighting hip-high prairie grass filled with burs and thorns. Ancient protection systems! I felt dirty by stepping a little bit onto the edge of a mound to get a good look at the full mound layout.
This site is listed as having 55+ mounds. I think this must be an overall number for the public and adjacent private property. I could see a half dozen or so prominent mounds in the clearing. Low mounds are probably nearly unnoticeable with the thick grass and ground cover.
This is an amazing location on the basis of being primitive and pure. If I were by myself or with others willing to just sit and “soak it in”… I think it would bring more fulfillment. As a road trip stop with the family… Be patient! (I think the guy from Cinncinati should road trip with me back to this spot)
This could be a rewarding location with just a little help. And there is the conundrum. Some parks have too much grooming and become borderline sacrilege. Then you have spots like this that are completely natural and start to get lost in nature. Where is the happy medium?
I think you have to fall back on the philosophy that this can be used to educate others. In order to do that, you need to have some maintenance and information. Albany Mounds in Northern Illinois is a great example of a respectful path near ancient gravesites. It lets people see that humans were here long before the settlers from Europe and still lets you feel their connection to the land.
I am no expert, and this is only about the 6th or 7th park I have been to. I have seen all levels of maintenance and reverence given to these spots from my visits to Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky. I think I need to start finding information on what the tribal leaders are demanding so I can wrap my head around the different levels of attention paid to these parks.
Angela had said an observation tower at Malchow Mounds would be a great Eagle Scout Project. I could not agree more. 8 feet of height off the ground would folks an amazing view to understand and pay homage without traipsing all over the mounds.
Iowa Code about ancient remains and graves
The Gazette article about Iowa Mounds