Cahokia Indian Mounds State Park


The World’s Largest Catsup Bottle isn’t the only thing worth seeing in Collinsville, Illinois.  As you leave the town, headed toward St. Louis, there’s another sight that’s tough to miss: the Cahokia Indian Mounds.

The Cahokia Mounds are wedged between Interstate 55/70 and Collinsville Road.  Getting off the interstate and into the park requires a little extra driving, though.  Take I-255 south, then take the first exit after the I55/70/255 interchange.  This exit will drop you onto Collinsville Road–head west.  Brown road signs will help direct you.
You can count Cahokia Mounds as a legitimate Route 66 attraction, since one version of 66 was routed on Collinsville Road, back in the 1950’s.  The route moved to nearby I-55 in 1963.

It’s a darn shame.  These mounds would be perfect for sledding.

The largest of the mounds is Monks Mound, which you see above.  It’s probably the one you’ll want to head for, because it’s the one with a staircase up its southern slope.  Monks Mound is on the north side of the road, and there’s a parking lot close by, on the same side of Collinsville Road.  Other mounds, and what appears to be a very expensive visitor’s center/museum building, are on the south side of the road.

The mounds at Cahokia were probably built around 1050 a.d., although the natives that lived here likely inhabited the area as early as 650.  The area was abandoned by 1400, leaving few clues about the people who lived here (even the name Cahokia doesn’t refer to them, but rather, the natives who lived nearby when white explorers arrived in the 1600’s).

Back when the area’s original residents lived here, they built a stockade around the mounds.  Parts of this wall have been reconstructed for your historical pleasure.

Now it’s time to tackle the stairs.  Two long sets of stairs take you up the southern slope of Monks Mound.

Monks Mound isn’t just the largest mound at this site, it’s the largest man-made earthen mound in North America.   The mound is 100 feet high, with a base that measures 1,037 x 790 feet–which means it’s larger at the base than the Great Pyramid of Giza.  There’s also evidence that a 50-foot-tall building once stood atop the mound.

From the top, you have a view of a lot of level land, and in the distance…

… there’s downtown St. Louis, complete with a nice angle on the Arch.

Looking down the staircase, you see Collinsville road, and on the other side, you can see several of the smaller mounds.

You’ll find a map of all the mounds here.  The map advises to allow a total of 2 hours for three walking tours of the area (not counting time in the museum).  That would be a pretty boring two hours, in my opinion. 

West of the mounds, you’ll find another parking area and attraction.  Called “Woodhenge”, this is a recreation of a large calendar, similar to Stonehenge.  The original calendar had 48 posts; the current calendar has restored 40 of them in their original positions. The functions of the posts are not entirely understood, although some were used to mark the equinoxes and solstices.

Congratulations! Today’s road trip history lesson is complete.

Note: This trip was first published in 2008.

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