I finally climbed Monks Mound last Friday.  This is something I’ve always wanted to do.  The Mound is all that’s left of the North American equivalent of the Great Pyramid: the major earthwork of the largest settlement of the most sophisticated prehistoric civilization north of Mexico.

postcard Cahokia, from a painting by Michael Hampshire

Cahokia! The mighty city of the Mound Builders!  In the year 1250 there were more people living in Cahokia than in London, and it was the largest city ever in North America until Philadelphia surpassed it in the census of 1800.  The story of Cahokia has been surrounded by a cloud of mystery and romance for me since I was a little kid.

Monks Mound on November 2nd, 2012

And there was still a lot of it left centuries later, when we climbed the mound in the company of a few other tourists and a dozen or so locals walking or running the staircases (154 steps) for exercise.  (This has got to be one of the great advantages of living in Collinsville, Illinois: being able to climb Monk’s Mound every clear day, just for a workout.  Plus they have a Waffle House.)

That romance and mystery, plus a little imagination, repopulates the surrounding landscape with pottery makers, flint knappers, hunters and dogs with curly tails.  And the modern views are compelling in their own way.

St. Louis and the Gateway Arch from the top of Monk’s Mound

So I did something I’ve always wanted to do, and the experience was highly satisfactory. That doesn’t happen often enough.  A lot of the credit goes to the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, which provides a handsome Interpretive Center with a well designed little museum and a charmingly tacky informational film, then lets the tourists out the back door to experience the site for themselves. (Tip: If you arrive in time for the first showing of the film, and head straight for Monks Mound, you can have your climb and a moment at the top with your thoughts before the school children finish their scavenger hunt.)

(postcard image (c) Michael Hampshire, photos (c) Pam Bliss)

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