Monday, January 16, 2017

Aztalan State Park, WI

State parks are the best. They're like mini National Parks in similar terms of quality of experience, memories and pure adventure. And we're beyond lucky to have an all-star roster of them here in Wisconsin. We've got parks in forests that sprawl across the state, along Lake Michigan and the mighty Superior, in flat golden plains and ones dotting the western Driftless Area. There are state parks that show off Wisconsin's best natural features and ones that tell stories of our early history from the French settlers to Native American tribes. So when i want to go out exploring, I've got plenty of options. I had two days off, back-to-back which rarely happens, so I decided to scratch a couple parks off my bucket list: Aztalan State Park and Natural Bridge State Park (which I blogged about recently too).

Located about an hour outside of Milwaukee is this archaeological masterpiece called Aztalan.

It's a 172-acre state park that gives us an opportunity to trek around a decades-old Native American settlement right along the Crawfish River. The Aztalans lived in this Middle-Mississippian settlement from A.D. 1000-1300. Through precise radiocarbon dating, archaeologists believe Aztalan may have even been inhabited as early as A.D. 600 with residents remaining up until late A.D. 1830. When Increase A. Lapham came here to survey the area in 1850, he discovered more than forty mounds. The park has preserved a few of the surviving mounds, including the large flat-top, pyramid mounds that make up the once-bustling plaza area. You'll see stockades (rows of tall posts dug in the ground that once made up the exterior perimeter of this village. Leaves and branches were once intertwined between the posts to create a vast wall on either side of the plaza. At its thriving peak, there were three stockades here at Aztlan surrounding the residential area, the exterior perimeter and previously mentioned plaza. The residential area contained both circular and rectangular houses made up of a combination of branches, bark, grasses and clay. Living along the river, the Aztalans frequently fished using hooks made of animal bone and copper for catfish, bass, suckers pike, gar and buffalo fish.

I so, so, so enjoyed hiking around Aztalan and exploring this place of rich history. It was almost eery at times, to stand in the exact same place that the Aztalans once roamed. You can easily spend a couple of hours here. Hike to the larger restored Earthen Mound, where religious ceremonies were held and shielded from public view. Archaeological digs have turned up two small copper masks believed to have been used in rituals. Nearby. large pits held corn and other grains There are easy trails that follow the shoreline of the Crawfish River, around and up the mounds, and back into the small, forest on property. It's a peaceful stroll through this patch of woods and the quick trail leads you to a row of marker mounds that border the road. I had to laugh at the 'Do Not Sled on Marker Mounds' sign.

Cross-off another Wisco state park property from my list. Here's to many more. If you've got a gene for exploring, you owe it to yourself to take a trip out here to Aztalan and learn a bit about the people that once called Wisconsin home.