Effigy Mounds:Where Geology Shaped a Culture

A cache by Trekkin' and Birdin' Send Message to Owner Message this owner
Hidden : 02/07/2008
In Iowa, United States
2 out of 5
3 out of 5

Size: Size: large (large)

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Geocache Description:

Visiting an earthcache in a National Park is even more adventurous than just logging a find, it is an Earth Science lesson we hope you'll enjoy.

Placement approved by Effigy Mounds National Monument

Learn, have fun and help to protect park resources while visiting Effigy Mounds National Monument, where one can walk through history…both geological and cultural.

The notable erosional features of the Driftless (unglaciated) Area set the framework for a unique assemblage of prairie and forest, wetland and upland, and warm and cool environments that are home to highly diverse communities of plants and animals. This provides an opportunity to study the intricate connection between the moundbuilding people and the dynamic continuum of the natural world which had a profound impact upon the evolution of a complex American Indian Culture.

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Hike through this sacred site to the Fire Point overlook of the Mississippi River, viewing a variety of earthen mounds including animal shaped “effigy mounds”. Many of the mounds contain the remains of Woodland Period American Indians who settled here in prehistoric times. As you hike, you will see how the unique geology of this area shaped a culture whose modern descendants hold this site as sacred – including the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma, Otoe-Missouria Tribe of Oklahoma, Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin, Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, Upper Sioux Community, Minnesota, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community of Minnesota (Prior Lake), Lower Sioux Indian Community in the State of Minnesota, Prairie Island Indian Community in the State of Minnesota, Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa, the Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska, and the Sac and Fox Nation, Oklahoma.

Effigy Mounds National Monument, located 3 miles north of Marquette, Iowa, was established in 1949 to preserve earthen mounds built by Native Americans in prehistoric times and to protect wildlife, scenic, and other natural values of the area. The monument encompasses a total of 2,526 acres; the mounds you will see were built during the Woodland Period, lasting from about 500 BC until 1200AD. They appear in a variety of forms, including effigy (animal-shaped), linear, conical, and compound (a combination of conical and linear elements).

At one time, there were thousands of these mounds scattered throughout the Mississippi River Valley. Within the Monument, over 200 of these ancient burial and ceremonial mounds are preserved. Although there are many thoughts among archaeologists and scientists about the reason these mounds are here, the modern descendants of the Woodland peoples still pass on the knowledge of these sacred sites through their oral traditions.

In seeking the information to complete this earthcache, please respect the sanctity of this sacred site. Remain on the trails at all times, following the waypoints along the way. Be prepared to enjoy this two mile walk through geological and Native American history. Failure to respect the trails and the sites may result in this Earthcache being removed from Effigy Mounds.

You will start your journey through time behind the Visitor Center, where you can obtain a guide for the Fire Point Trail. Near the boardwalk, notice the three conical burial mounds located here before continuing up the trail. Continue on up the hillside trail to the first waypoint.

Waypoint #1

N43 05.369

W091 11.275

In front of you, you will find a vein of chert, which is a form of flint. Look for the whitish grey line in the limestone rock. The Woodland people made use of this chert, which is found in the area in large amounts, in everyday survival. Before the bow and arrow was developed, spears thrown with atlatls were used for hunting. Chert was used to create large spear points for these weapons, as well as blades and scrapers. You can feel the vein of chert in front of you. In your email, describe the way it feels, and also make note of the approximate length and width of this vein.

Waypoint #2

N43 05.382

W091 11.264

Here you can catch your breath and ponder another facet of area geology that made this an attractive place to settle. The Woodland people lived in small family groups, or clans, coming together in the summer months along the river banks. As the seasons changed, they would disperse to find shelter for the winter. Standing at this waypoint, go back in time and imagine yourself seeking shelter during the winter. The trail guide (available in the bookstore for $0. 65) and other free information available in the visitor center explain winter shelters. In your email, describe these shelters and tell me what made these particular shelters desirable.

Waypoint #3

N43 05.500

W091 11.191

At this point, you are standing in front of a compound mound, three conical mounds connected by linear mounds. Read the informational sign and in your email, tell me with what were the burial pits within the earliest mounds lined? Where do you think the Woodland people obtained this substance, since it was not locally available? What geological feature nearby made such trading networks possible?

Waypoint #4

N43 05.551

W091 11.018

You are standing in front of the Little Bear Effigy Mound. This mound was partially excavated and repaired when a tree was removed from it many years ago. There were no burials discovered in it, but near the heart region, remains of a fire pit were found. In your email, tell me the name given to the people who created this mound as well as its possible use.

From here, you will walk along the ridge top, passing alongside what is sometimes called “The String of Pearls,” a series of nineteen conical mounds that lead you out to Fire Point. Think about this site from the perspective of the Woodland people making a life here a thousand years ago.

Waypoint #5

N43 05.532

W091 10.817

Now you’ve reached the spectacular view from Fire Point. You will be looking out over the Mississippi River. Look to the south; the Wisconsin River joins the Mississippi just downriver from here. The Yellow River empties into the Mississippi just below the bluffs. Think about the resources this location must have provided for the Woodland people, not only those that sustained them, but also those that protected them. In your log, please post a photo of yourself near this overlook. If you are visiting this site alone, place your GPS in the camera’s view. Take an elevation reading here and include that in your email.

As you follow the trail from here back to the Visitor Center, take note of the bluffs and the vistas beyond. Reflect on what you’ve discovered in your hike today about the way the geology of this region interacted with the Woodland people to create the unique culture known in anthropology texts as “The Moundbuilders.”

Any logs by finders who do not send us the answers to the above questions within one week will be deleted.


The trails at Effigy Mounds are open year round, from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sundown. On days when the Visitor Center is not open, hike at your own risk. If the Visitor Center is open, please stop in and tell the ranger on duty thanks for allowing this earthcache placement at this special place. While you’re in there, check out the informative displays, which include many artifacts. For more information on the Monument visit their website at

We are grateful to the staff at Effigy Mounds National Monument, for helping to insure that this Earthcache maintains the mission of the park, and for granting permission for its placement. Earthcaches do not utilize cache containers and adhere to Leave No Trace principals - take only memories, leave only footprints. The placement of cache containers anywhere in the Monument is prohibited.

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Last Updated: on 05/27/2016 10:38:17 Pacific Daylight Time (17:38 GMT)
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Coordinates are in the WGS84 datum