This picture is from the top of the most important mound at the site, looking north toward the other outer corner of the area delimited by the stockade (you should be able to see the poles at both ends as well as the corresponding mound at the other corner. The rectangular settlement was parallel to and on the river bank. At the back of the picture on the left side, you can see the upward slope of the land: Here there were about 7 mounds lined up in a row. They are a little obscured by the trees. Interestingly, these mounds and several others that no longer exist were outside the stockade. Oh, and ps: They were not burial mounds!

I admit it.  I am a menace on the roads of Wisconsin.

Certainly, as my family will attest, it is not due to excessive speed!  Embarrassingly, it is exactly the opposite.  I suffer from the Triple R Syndrome (Rural Road Rubber-necking) so my speed tends to be excessively low, and I swerve a bit as my hands follow my eyes to check out the photographic possibilities or just generally drink in the gorgeous scenery of my favorite state.  I had this experience just the other day when I decided to go visit the Aztalan State Park.

The poles of the reconstructed stockade at the native American ruins.

Just a bit of background:  I have seen the sign for the park probably 100 times – and never got beyond wondering why it was Az-ta-lan versus the more familiar (to me) A-zat-lan (name of a Mexican restaurant).  Yes, it did occur to me that a state park in Wisconsin named after something related to a Mexican restaurant was a bit odd, but obviously not odd enough for me to delve any deeper.Well, Monday of this week, I got out my trusty guide books to Wisconsin to look up some fun place to go visit and come back and write to you about, and I stumbled across a description of what Aztalan State Park is all about.

Wow!  Don’t you just love it when your day includes learning something new and being forced to look at your assumptions with new information? Even the origin of the name is fascinating.

Basically, I discovered that Aztalan is a national historic site with the ruins of a native American city from almost a 1000 years ago.  If you’re like me “native American” means tribes like Cherokee, Choctaw, Hochunk, Ojibwa, etc., but this settlement was built by their ancestors!  Middle Mississippians, they were called. (I hadn’t really thought that the Native American tribes we know are actually modern peoples.)

Another picturesque rural scene (again on County Q).

So I did a little research about the park itself and the Middle Mississsippians, and I won’t describe it to you here, because the links I’ll include (at the end) can do a much better job.  Suffice it to say that, if this is all news to you – as it was to me – I think you’ll enjoy following the links and reading about this part of American history.  It is American history (as opposed to Wisconsin history)because the Middle Mississippian culture extended from Wisconsin all the way down to Louisiana (using our modern names for the places).I waffled about going.  The temperature was predicted to get to 100 degrees (but onlygot to 97).  I went anyway as I was curious enough to face the weather and worried that if I didn’t strike while the proverbial iron was hot, that I would not find the time to go for a long time.The drive there (from the Farm) involved highways WI 26 and 89 and County Road Q.  (Look for it right near Lake Mills, WI.)

One of the picturesque farms along County Q.

County Q is one beautiful road! Drive it just for the experience of seeing quintessential Wisconsin,  the gorgeous rolling hills, striking farms and fields.The park is pretty easy to find:  The state flag of Wisconsin on a country road is a dead giveaway.From the first parking lot, you can already see mounds and the re-constructed portions of the stockade.  Even as I gazed out at the scene before me, I could feel that this was a special place.  I had the luxury of having the park completely to myself, so there were no distractions.  I climbed each and every mound and surveyed the views from the top.  I walked the entire perimeter of where the stockade once encircled the settlement.  I read all the interpretive signs (not very useful) and I could imagine the houses, and the hustle and bustle of families who went about their daily lives in this place – fishing, farming, worshipping, trading.

Another view from a mound-top – the surrounding countryside was just beautiful.

And I gained a new appreciation for the impact that the Europeans had on our native peoples.  This was a city, established like the celebrated ancient civilizations, with divisions of labor that freed some members of the population from food provision to engage in the production of pottery, the building of earthworks, the fashioning of beads and buttons, religious observances and more.  Read history and you discover that nomadic Indian cultures were a result of the encroachment of the Europeans, not the innate culture of these peoples. The setting for the settlement is prefect.  Even today we can appreciate the site along the Crawfish River, the protected valley, the surrounding woods and fields and understand the plenty that these people enjoyed.  It must have been a pretty good life.  But, the settlement was suddenly abandoned, reasons unknown. It seems these people got out just before a mini-ice age.  Wouldn’t you love to know more?

The Crawfish River, the eastern border of the settlement.

And that is my one criticism of this place.  The information is incomplete.  None of the interpretive signs gives any sort of attribution for the source of the statements made there.  There are references to artifacts found at the site, but no mention of where they are now.  As a result, it is just a pretty place, with picnic facilities along a river that you can fish in.  But the potential for something wonderful is obvious.

My guide book hints that the state was going to do something with this park, but the dire state of state finances has probably shelved any plans.  It merits much more attention.  The history of the park itself, the archeological digs that were conducted, the references that appear in the writing of explorers  all point to a place that should be not just conserved, but studied extensively and even developed as an educational resource.

When I left the park, I just had to explore the interesting glimpses I had of the surrounding area from atop the mounds.  Doing so, I happened upon the Aztalan Museum (closed).  The museum seemed to be a collection of pioneer buildings (nothing to do with the ruins).  Even closed, it was fun to walk around and peer in the windows.

 The park is very close to Lake Mills, so if you’re designing a trip there to see the Ephraim Pottery (recommended), add this to your itinerary.  Just read up beforehand and you will enjoy it much more!

Here are some links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aztalan_State_Park

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mississippian_culture

One response »

  1. Carmen says:

    Que tal,
    Est bastante bien tu blog. Hay otros articulos no me interesaron mucho, pero la mayora son buenos.

    A seguyir asi!

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