Bonus: Effigy Mounds National Monument, IA

National Parks highlight the natural beauty of our great country, largely unspoiled by human intervention and kept as naturally in-tact as possible.  National Monuments sometimes include solely unspoiled natural landscapes, but are such designated due to their cultural significance as well.  This distinction is particularly evident at Effigy Mounds National Monument in Harpers Ferry, Iowa.

I only spent a couple hours walking the trails surrounding the mounds themselves, but as soon as you approach the first mound, a feeling washes over you that the earth under your feet is hallowed.  Many of the mounds were built well over a thousand years ago, and are associated with various Native American tribes, including the Iowa, Sioux, and Fox, among others.  Formed in the shapes of bears, birds, snakes, and a variety of other creatures, the mounds held great cultural significance to early native groups across what is now the Midwest United States.

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My short, 6-mile hike from the Visitor’s Center to the Little Bear Mound, Great Bear Mound, and Twin Views overlook areas offered a small glimpse into the culture of these tribes, but I left with a much greater understanding and appreciation for the mounds.

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Perhaps the highlight of the hike was the striking Twin Views overlook area which lies some 50 feet above the banks of the mighty Mississippi River, across which western Wisconsin is visible.

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