HARPERS FERRY, Iowa — A hiker’s paradise replete with archeological
wonders, Effigy Mounds National Monument in northeast Iowa brings
together the highlights of parks like the Great Smoky Mountains and
Chaco Culture — places with lots of acres or big reputations. Yet just
as this “little big park” won’t disappoint, it also won’t overwhelm
visitors who make it their destination for a getaway.
The hiking opportunities here range from relaxing strolls to
seven-mile treks in a landscape that, like the park itself, seems to
have selected elements from throughout the nation to compose a pleasing
Slender tree trunks silhouetted by early-morning light and foliage
turned scarlet and gold by fall recall the woodlands of New England.
Native tallgrass prairie offers a taste of the Great Plains. Bluffs
overlooking the Mississippi River serve as ambassadors of mountains from
the Appalachians to the Sierra Nevadas. Riverbanks and wetlands add to
the mix, with one example of these habitats — the marshes of the Yellow
River — inviting all hikers to come and explore on ADA-compliant
While esteemed filmmaker Ken Burns has contended that the national
parks are “cathedrals of nature,” conducive to worship of the divine,
Effigy Mounds National Monument is indisputably a sacred place.
In addition to the cliffs, forests, and waterways that some might
say make the sublime present in this park, the monument preserves an
American Indian burial ground dating back 2,500 years to the era of the
Red Ochre Culture. The builders of effigy mounds lived 850 to 1,400
years ago. Mound shapes found within the monument include conical and
compound mounds constructed for burials and long, cigar-shaped “linear”
mounds for ceremonial purposes. It is animal-shaped mounds, however,
that give the Effigy Mounds Culture its name. Of the more than 200
earthworks in the park, 31 are effigies of bears and birds. These
quasi-sculptures include Little Bear Mound and the Marching Bear Group
(10 bears, three birds).
This coming Sunday marks the 60th anniversary of Effigy Mounds
National Monument. To celebrate, the park hosts a nocturnal hike on
Saturday evening, followed by “Sunday in the Park” — a day featuring
ranger-guided hikes, cultural presentations, and exhibits.
On Oct. 25, 1949, President Harry Truman declared Effigy Mounds a
national monument, tacitly proclaiming his belief in the significance of
the site. This October 25, don’t just take his unspoken word for it.
Make Effigy Mounds your destination for a getaway, and let the park’s
natural and cultural treasures impress you.
Photos by Ken Block, Effigy Mounds National Monument