Category Archives: History

I Spy Cahokia Mounds

Mounds of dirt? Count us in!

Mounds of dirt? Count us in!

The remains of the most sophisticated prehistoric native civilization north of Mexico are preserved at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. Within the 2,200-acre tract, located a few miles west of Collinsville, Illinois, lie the archaeological remnants of the central section of the ancient settlement that is today known as Cahokia. (from the Cahokia Mounds website)

The museum was very nice and not busy at all today.

The museum was very nice and not busy at all today.

There was a short movie and various exhibits that surmised the lifestyles of the “Mississippians” (couldn’t they have thought of a more exotic name?!) who inhabited this area/built these mounds. The “Golden Age” of Cahokia was apparently AD 1100-1200.

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So my critique (ever the skeptic) of the above picture is..I doubt they mowed the lawn on those mounds.

Makes me want to go digging for arrowheads/trinkets!

Makes me want to go digging for arrowheads/trinkets!

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The above picture isn’t the greatest, but I was shocked at the scale of Monks Mound (the biggest mound at Cahokia; the green model in the center) in comparison to the Great Pyramid of Cheops (top right). Monks Mound is 14 acres at the base and 100 feet high; the pyramid is taller (481 feet) but 13 acres at the base. Most people can picture an Aztec pyramid (e.g. Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan, Mexico far left) but I would say the Illinois dirt mounds definitely get a lot less fame, right? I guess rocks are more impressive than dirt (to some!). Exhibit B:

A model of "Wood Henge" (like a giant sundial calendar thing)

A model of “Wood Henge” (like a giant sundial calendar thing)

Have you ever heard of wood henge? Didn’t think so! But I bet you’ve heard of the stone version!

Bunny rabbit!

Bunny rabbit!

Better behave Butkus!! hahaha

Better behave Butkus!! hahaha

Acorn squash! That's (hopefully) going to be me in a few weeks...

Winter squash! That’s (hopefully) going to be me in a few weeks…

Right here!

Right here! (though I may wear a shirt while I harvest)

Really cool doors at the visitor center

Really cool doors at the visitor center

And finally, on to the mounds…

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There's one!

There’s one!

And another

And another

You can't really tell from this photo but this was a huge turkey

You can’t really tell from this photo but this was a huge turkey

See all the turkey heads in the distance?

See all the turkey heads in the distance?

Moth

Moth

Two tiered mound

Two tiered mound

Turkey silhouette

Turkey silhouette

Haybales view

Haybales view

The property kind of reminded me of Shaw Nature Preserve

The property kind of reminded me of Shaw Nature Preserve

I was also reminded of that terrifying movie Apocalypto. So we tried to get in touch with the vibes of these ancient grounds…

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Come on kids, let’s pretend you’re being marched up that pyramid to be sacrificed!

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Fun, right?!

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The kids headed up the first round of steps

The kids headed up the first round of steps

This is at the top of Monk's Mound; you can see it is quite vast!

This is at the top of Monk’s Mound; you can see it is quite large.

The view was really great…

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And there you have it…The Great Pyramids of Giza, The temples of the Aztec Empire, Stonehenge…no need to go so far if you’re wanting to see some ancient digs; just check out Cahokia Mounds in Collinsville, Illinois!

Meramec Caverns

Stalagtites in Meramec Caverns

Stalagtites in Meramec Caverns

Cool cave! (58 degrees, 365 days a year!)

Cool cave! (58 degrees, 365 days a year!)

Meramec Caverns was used in the civil war; one of the minerals found in the cave is called saltpeter (or potassium nitrate) and was mined to make gunpowder

Meramec Caverns was used in the civil war; one of the minerals found in the cave is called saltpeter (or potassium nitrate) and was mined to make gunpowder

The cave was also a hideout for Jesse James.

The cave was also a hideout for Jesse James.

In the summer of 1941, Missouri was in the midst of a rather severe drought. A drought so intense, it not only dropped the rivers and streams above ground, but the water table itself also depleted. At that time, the main level of Meramec Caverns seemed to ‘dead end’ at a wall with a small pool of water spilling out below. With the drop of the water table, the pool of water below the wall receded nearly six inches and allowed a cool, breeze to push into the cave between the wall’s bottom and top of the water. Les Dill was alerted of this change by his cave guides, and, being the adventurous man he was, Dill elected to go under the wall, through the water, and see what was on the other side. Once past the wall, Les was opened to yet another large area of branching networks…even more cave. It was here, too, Les found the artifacts traceable to the infamous Jesse James and the cave was dubbed ‘Jesse James Hideout’. (from Meramec Caverns website)

When you first walk in you enter the ballroom; where many parties and concerts have taken place (and continue to be held)

When you first walk in you enter the ballroom; where many parties and concerts have taken place (and continue to be held)

Disco ball in the ballroom

Disco ball in the ballroom

The 1890’s brought a new era of human interaction to the cave. During that time, locals from Stanton, MO would hold ‘cave parties’ during summer months to avoid the extreme heat. Meramec Caverns was especially popular for these types of events, as a very large room lie just 300 feet inside the cave entrance. The room was large enough to accommodate big crowds, as well as a 50 foot by 50 foot dance floor in the center. This earned the room the nickname of the ‘Ballroom’. Meramec Caverns, then known as Saltpeter Cave, was purchased in 1898 by Charles Ruepple, and he headed a dance committee along with other local men from Stanton. Dancing continued through the 1890’s and spilled over into 1900, but it would be another 33 years before the most significant event in the cave’s history. (from Meramec Caverns website)

“Onyx Mountain” one of the largest stalagmites in the world (the other 2 largest are in China and New Zealand) You can see people’s heads in the bottom of the photo to get an idea of scale.

The

The “living side” of Onyx Mountain touching the “ceiling”; the other side is cut off from a water supply so is no longer “growing”

Not the greatest picture but this part of

Not the greatest picture but this part of “Onyx Mountain” has one large section that is all calcium deposits and was very white.

This reflection pool and the lighting makes it look like there is a canyon below.

This reflection pool and the lighting makes it look like there is a canyon below.

Very hard to take pictures in a cave! As we progressed on the tour the lights behind us were shut off so we had to keep up with the “good lighting” to get pictures!. Its hard to even tell what color some of the rocks actually were because of the warmth of the light.

In the

In the “wine room”

The

The “wine room” (because these formations look like grapes)

Lots of grape-like clusters

Lots of grape-like clusters

Tall ceiling

Tall ceiling

Columns, posts and pillars

Columns, posts and pillars

Stalagmites and stalagtites

Stalagmites and stalagtites

Lester Benton Dill, born in 1898, spent the majority of his youth exploring caves in the Meramec River Valley. Les began his cave promotion days with a small cave in Meramec State Park, known as Fisher’s Cave. Though Fisher’s Cave was exciting to work with, Les wanted more and in 1933 he approached Charles Ruepple about the prospect of purchasing his cave. Mr. Dill’s sole interest in the cave was to develop it into a show cave and allow it to be entertainment for the public. Charles was reluctant at first, but soon agreed to sell the cave to Les. Les changed the name from Saltpeter Cave to Meramec Caverns and quickly began promoting and offering cave tours to the public. (from Meramec Caverns website)

Meramec Caverns is still owned by descendants of the Dill family and it definitely has a unique “throw-back” feel to it.

Meramec Caverns entrance; Stanton, MO

Meramec Caverns entrance; Stanton, MO

They also offer boat rides on the Meramec River (looking very muddy on this particular day)

They also offer boat rides on the Meramec River (looking very muddy on this particular day)

Panning for gold! (not really)

Panning for gold! (not really)

They also had a few shops and a zip line activity, but we were most interested in the cave…

This weird formation (

This weird formation (“the biggest of it’s type in the world” (don’t you just love an obscure claim to fame?!) it looked like an animal.

Mysterious crevices

Mysterious crevices

This part of the cave is where an episode of Lassie was filmed. Hahha

This part of the cave is where an episode of Lassie was filmed. Hahha

Spiky

Spiky (and slimy!)

After the discovery of 1941 and the addition of an opened lower level room in 1947, uncovering miles of new passages and spectacular views, Meramec Caverns was complete. Meramec Caverns soon became known far and wide through signs plastered along the roads to attract tourist to the Caverns. Advertisements for the Caverns were also painted on barns in 14 states. Dill also pioneered the use of bumper stickers, then called bumper signs because the vinyl and adhesive used to attach stickers to cars had not yet been developed. While visitors toured the cave, Dill would have “bumper sign boys” tie the Meramec Caverns bumper signs on their cars giving him free advertising and visitors a free souvenir.  (from Meramec Caverns website)

Like frozen waterfalls

Like frozen waterfalls

Another reflective pool

Another reflective pool

Walking down towards the theater room.

Walking down towards the theater room.

Drumroll…

Wowza! The

Wowza! The “theater room”; this huge wall of white formations (called “the curtain”) stands nearly 70 feet high!

Leaving the theater room; more large white formations.

Leaving the theater room; more large white formations.

Definitely worth a visit if you are ever in the St. Louis area!

I Spy: Mastodon State Historic Site

Behold, the mighty mastodon

Behold, the mighty mastodon

Awwww, its so adorable!

Awwww, its so adorable!

Apparently mastodons used to roam freely in the land of Spy Garden. I didn’t even know what a mastodon was! It is like a wooly mammoth, but a bit smaller and with a less lumpy head.

Mastodon Skull

Mastodon Skull

And…

WHAT IS THAT?

WHAT IS THAT?

That, friends, is a giant ground sloth: a Jefferson’s Ground Sloth.

The Spy and his friend checking out an exhibit about Heinze Cave

The Spy and his friend checking out an exhibit about Heinze Cave

This pretty house was closed for improvements, but features more interactive exhibits.

This pretty house was closed for improvements, but features more interactive exhibits.

After checking out the museum and watching a short video that taught us all about the history of the site, we hit the…

Trail!

Trail!

The “Bone Bed” sounds more exciting than it was; there are no public excavations at this time (so basically it was “the woods” haha) but still a very…

nice walk!

nice walk!

The Kimmswick Bone Bed

About The Kimmswick Bone Bed

“Mastodon State Historic Site contains an important archaeological and paleontological site – the Kimmswick Bone Bed, where scientists discovered the first solid evidence of the coexistence of humans and the American mastodon in eastern North America.” (source)

Baby and Smoochie

Baby and Smoochie

This acorn matches my hat.

This acorn matches my hat.

Seed pod? Or mastodon tusks? haha

Seed pods? Or mastodon tusks? haha

The Spy in his element, taking a moment

The Spy in his element, taking a moment

Check out those rock faces

Check out those rock faces

Click here to visit the park’s website and learn more about this cool place!