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September 2, 2018
St. Louis, Missouri: The Cahokia Mounds

We have arrived in St. Louis, Missouri! We got here in the middle of the night, though our official arrival time was 8:00 am. As compensation for missing New Madrid, the cruise line is giving everyone a full day in St. Louis. They are also giving everyone a free bus tour of the city.

St. Louis sits near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. This is where Lewis and Clark began their “Discovery Corps of America” expedition. St. Louis became the gateway for U.S. expansion into the west.

Our steamboat is docked right next to the famous Gateway Arch. It is an absolutely spectacular view from the bow of the boat.

The American Queen (left) is parked right next to the Gateway Arch.
Gail took a photo at just the right moment, when the rising sun causes the Arch to appear silver on one side and gold on the other.

When Gail was researching our trip, she googled “unusual things to do in St. Louis.” One of the results was the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. When she asked the onboard Excursion Desk about it, they had never heard of it. But it sounded like just the kind of thing that Gail likes to visit.

Our original plan was to take the free city bus excursion from 8:00-10:00. Then we would take a taxi or Uber to Cahokia Mounds in the afternoon. (Gail couldn’t find any public transit that would take us there.)

But this morning, Gail changed her mind. The distance from the steamboat to Cahokia Mounds is 8.9 miles. Could we bicycle that far? We cancelled our bus tour and took out two bicycles at 8:30 am.

Our bicycle route would take us across the Mississippi River from Missouri to Illinois, by way of Eads Bridge. Built in 1874, Eads Bridge was one of the earliest long bridges built across the Mississippi River, and was the world’s first all-steel construction.

Eads Bridge

While the bridge had a bicycle lane, we would continue for five miles on Collinsville Road, which did not. Google Maps showed us that it was a four-lane road, so we felt safe. The hardest part of our journey was navigating around all the freeway entrances and roundabouts.

Bicycling a roundabout and Collinsville Road

After a hour and a half cycling in the hot sun, a triumphant arrival!

Cahokia Mounds is the largest prehistoric Indian site north of Mexico, as well as the largest archeological site in the U.S. Dating from AD 700, the site once covered 4,000 acres and included more than 120 mounds. Today, a national park protects 2,200 acres and 70 of the 80 remaining mounds. The site has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We started in the Interpretative Center, which was very well done. There was a 15-minute movie and lots of displays, including a full-sized recreated village.

Construction of these mounds involved moving more than 60 million cubic feet of earth, transported in baskets on peoples’ backs. The mounds were used for ceremonial buildings, wealthy residences and burials of important people.

Gail at one of the Twin Mounds

Monk’s Mound is the largest structure. At 100 feet high and 13.8 acres, it is the largest earthen structure north of Mexico. A modern stairway takes visitors to the top, and Gail counted 153 steps each way.

Monk’s Mound, then and now

153 steps each way!

The view from the top of Monk’s Mound. The Interpretive Center is upper left; the Twin Mounds are upper right. Collinsville Road runs right through the middle.

This gives an idea how far we bicycled – you can just make out the St. Louis skyline and the Gateway Arch in the distance

The Stockade east of Monk’s Mound, then and now

Woodhenge is a series of large timber circles. (Think of Stonehenge, but with wooden posts instead of stone ones.) Archeologists believe it was used as a calendar to mark the changing seasons. Collinsville Road literally runs right through the area. Apparently, the area was going to become a highway until workers discovered traces of the henge. The highway was re-routed around the area… but not by much.

Woodhenge, then and now (note Collinsville Road right next to it)

The posts are of course reproductions, but they are constructed the same way and out of the same type of wood as the originals

We spent almost three hours at Cahokia before bicycling back to the boat. The good news is that our return trip had more downhill sections. The bad news is that we had a headwind the entire way. By the time we got back to the boat, Gail was exhausted. But we are so glad we took bicycles instead of a taxi. We cycled about 20 miles today – a record for this cruise – and the adventure was well worth it.

Russell is looking (and feeling) better all the time. Plus, he didn’t have a bicycle accident today!


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