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Daniel_Williams Jun 18th, 2019 09:09 AM

St. Louis & Cahokia Mounds: Largest Pre-Columbus Site North of Mexico
Last year I visited Saint Louis and I messed up in more ways than one. I booked one night, stayed in the downtown core and visited the Arch and the Courthouse, trying toasted ravioli at a downtown establishment. To be honest, even though the Arch Museum and Courthouse Museum were well-done, the downtown had seemed sort of meh and I felt no burning desire to return to St. Louis.

But then, I found out here that Cahokia Mounds was interesting and 20 minutes by car from St. Louis, so I investigated more. First of all, the word “mound” is inappropriate, definitely for the big one, Monks Mound at Cahokia. A mound strikes me as a bump in the land; an uninspiring word that minimizes what may be the closest thing the US has to a Chichen Itza. The largest “mound” reminds me more of a pyramid or a temple, very much like those further south in Mesoamerica. It made me wonder if the “Cahokians” knew of or even traded with the Toltecs or the Mexica. The population of Cahokia was thought to be in the tens of thousands around 1200 AD, believed to be larger than London at that time! This was no two-bit nomadic site but organized civilization. I would call it “Ancient Cahokia”.

Anyway, so this year, on Amtrak points (Chicago to Texas was free, yippee!) I plotted a trip from Montreal to Texas and decided I would overnight in St. Louis and see Ancient Cahokia. Well, I messed up again, in more ways than one.

The one day I gave myself, Monday June 17th, the interpretation Center at Cahokia was closed (closed Monday & Tuesday). And it was raining hard. My Uber driver was very sympathetic when I arrived; luckily the Interpretation Center left out brochures. I read the brochures,
Monks Mound
each plaque and climbed Monks Mound. Despite the fact that my socks were soaked through, I still felt humbled as I saw the surrounding landscape from atop the pyramid as the Cahokians (who knows what they called themselves?) once did. I wondered standing up there what happened to their civilization, which vanished apparently around 1350, long before the arrival of the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria.

I had a number of hours before my southbound train was due to leave and asked my Uber driver to take me to Soulard and to a restaurant he liked there, Peacemakers Lobster & Crab. The driver was wonderful, a good storyteller and asked if I’d like a five-minute tour of the St. Louis neighbourhood. I of course said yes. And this neighbourhood I just loved, with its charming red-brick sidewalks, hybrid French-English architecture and character-rich establishments. Soulard made me realize I had totally mis-gauged St. Louis, by judging it from more deserted downtown areas. I actually now am quite enamoured of the city and was sorry I had not planned a longer visit!

Vttraveler Jun 18th, 2019 09:17 AM

Thanks for the report. My husband and I have the Cahokia historic site on our "to see" list. In April we visited Moundville, another impressive site in AL

Fra_Diavolo Jun 18th, 2019 09:43 AM

Interesting as usual, Daniel. Thanks!

emalloy Jun 18th, 2019 11:17 AM

I'm glad you got to visit the mounds. We were there a few years ago and the VC/museum there was interesting too. If you are interested in other sites, there are several from Florida to Canada. We've also been to Hopewell in Ohio, Etowah about an hour north of Atlanta, GA and some others in northern Illinois or Minnesota. Of these, as I recall, Cahokia was on the larger size, but Etowah was also pretty big.

Thanks for bringing back some nice memories.

Daniel_Williams Jun 18th, 2019 12:46 PM

Thanks for reading Fra_Diavolo

vttraveller, emalloy—Thanks for reading also. I also appreciate your suggestions of other sites. I had heard of Moundville but not Etowah.

wtm003 Jun 18th, 2019 05:31 PM

My husband and I made a short stop at the mounds in March while on the way to a wedding in St. Louis. Absolutely fascinating. I'm sorry the Interpretation Center was closed during your visit. The staff was wonderful and excited to share their knowledge. I'd like to go back for a longer visit.

If you ever go back to St. Louis be sure to see the The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis - incredible mosaics. We also stopped at the Missouri Botanical Garden and while it was early in the season for most of the gardens, we went to the beautiful orchid exhibit, which we really enjoyed. Unfortunately we ran out of time for Ted Drewes.

Daniel_Williams Jun 18th, 2019 06:53 PM

Wtm003— I’m glad to hear the interpretation Center is a worthwhile stop and that you also were compelled to visit Cahokia. I did get a “concrete” at Ted Drewes this time around; took an Uber there. Thanks for your other recommendations also for when I return to St. Louis. Best wishes, Daniel

Daniel_Williams Jul 10th, 2019 08:12 AM

This year’s summer adventure has as a major focus pre-Columbian archaeological sites of North America. I am presently in Copán, Honduras and visited Izapa in Mexico, as well as Tazumal and Joya de Cerén in El Salvador. I have one more big name one to go, but Copán has rocked my world, mind-blowing in the same way as Teotihuacan.

Since by opening this, there may have been an interest in archaeology, I include a link to the continuation:

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