Midland Review.

Wolf Mom & Snow Crane at Cahokia

Cahokia Mounds State Park

In current day Collinsville/East St. Louis, Illinois at the confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois rivers is the remnant of the center of Mississippian society, which we tag as emerging around the year 800 and declining around 1600. French explorers met a people named Cahokia living in the area but the creators of the city had long left it behind. Still, those people are today called Cahokians because it’s impossible to know exactly what they called themselves (the museum doesn’t quite address this.)

The current site, an Illinois State Park, covers just a fragment of the city that in the year 1050 exploded in population and size. Around 20,000 people (some higher estimates, some lower) lived there in 6 square miles, not including the suburbs. For perspective, Cahokia was larger than London at the time. No city in North America would be bigger until Philadelphia reached 40,000 people in 1780.

But for many reasons, namely the “myth of the mound builders” (European disbelief that a Native American group could have created such large monuments and complex, centralized societies) and subsequent land development, most of the 120 mounds have been destroyed. At the park, you can take a turn around the Grand Plaza, past a mortuary mound and small temple mounds. The Cahokians leveled the terrain of the Grand Plaza to fit thousands of people who could gather before the largest temple mound of the city. Monk’s Mound, as it is called today because some Trappist monks used to live near it, is 100ft tall and covers just under 14 acres. A temple and other buildings stood at the top, making it even taller while in use.

Monk’s Mound was a sacred space. A political place. During our visit, Monk’s Mound was a gym. But better a great place to get in those steps and stairs than bulldozed.

Mom’s rating: 4 out of 5.

 

Kansas City

The Bodyguard The Musical: Deborah Cox and the cast delivered. Our souls were uplifted by song and dance.

Mom’s rating: 5 out of 5

The Bodyguard at the Starlight Theater

The Steamboat Arabia Museum: This was a really interesting museum. In the 1980s, a group of friends excavated a steamboat that sank in the Missouri river in 1856. The museum is designed well: historical context, excavation and preservation context and artifacts on display as if in A department store. Stories abound. A family run operation, their passion for the find is clear. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I applaud the independent spirit that drives the whole outfit but I still can’t help but wonder- if this is the largest collection of pre-Civil War artifacts in the country, what is being done in terms of analysis? Does anyone else have access to it? Is the data being examined? But these questions shouldn’t get in the way of enjoying one of the best museum experiences in the country.

Mom’s rating: 5 out of 5.

 

City Market and River Walk: Lunch at a trying to be authentic Chinese restaurant and a walk along the Missouri River. It was hot.

Mom’s rating: 3 out of 5.

 

Kansas

The Oregon Trail at Alcove Spring in Blue Rapids, Kansas: It’s swale. A turn off the highway onto a dirt road. No other automobile, houses, or people. “You’ve arrived at your destination,” Mrs. Garmin says as hills rise on either side of the road. But around the bend and there she is: Alcove Spring, another state park. This time in Kansas, this time on the Oregon Trail. From the parking lot, a short walk along a meadow takes you to a natural spring where many travelers stopped to rest, including the infamous Donner Party  (a member of whom carved his name into a rock). Supposedly the spring has never gone dry but it was pretty near done for when we arrived.

Across the road and a few steps up the hill, a swale, or the ruts in the ground from a road long disused, is visible. This is the path of the Oregon Trail.

Mom’s Rating: 5 out of 5

On the Oregon Trail

 

Denver

All about the food… and altitude sickness. We stayed at the Lumber Baron Inn in the North Highlands area which was a great neighborhood. We ate at Bar Dough, an Italian restaurant, one night and a ramen shop the next, Uncle Ramen. Both were delicious.

Mom’s Rating: 4 out of 5

Reflection.

Sparing a thought for the jade plant wilting in the backseat, we stopped for lunch at a “family restaurant” in Belville, Kansas on the edge of town. We forsook a picnic lunch for two reasons. One, for an area with so much land, none of it was for public enjoyment and two, in a new place I am compelled to be among people who call it home.

 

Sit anywhere, a young woman indicated. A dining room to the right and the left. On the right, plastic tables and what may possibly have been the entire retired community of the town, in parties of one and two, for a total of seven. That room was crowded. On the left, an empty room save for a couple in the corner. Wooden tables. Mom heads to the right, through open stares and uninhibited curiosity toward a table for six; I turn left. “You’re both going the other way,” a grandmother chuckles. I smile and suggest to Mom we take a smaller table in the other room. All heads turned to follow our progress.

Read more Reflection.