This past May, we slowly made our way from San Antonio, Texas, to Goshen, Indiana, for the Heartland Owners Club North American Rally. We stopped over for a few days at the small and quaint U.S. Corps of Engineers Willow Beach Campground in Willow Beach, Arkansas, at the Terry Lock and Dam. Our site was at the end of the road overlooking the Arkansas River. Willow Beach is located east of Little Rock. Our timing couldn't of been any better because there were not very many campers there.
We enjoyed a little downtime, campfires, and happy hour sunsets. This Campground certainly took us by happy surprise. I mean, first, LOOK at that view! Second, we've found that every town, no matter acreage or population, has something that puts them on the map and this region certainly does too.
As we always do prior to driving to our destinations and overnights, we research the internet to see what there is to do in the area. We actually found this little excursion from a pamphlet we picked up at the Arkansas Welcome Center. Not too far from the campground, we discovered a cool Arkansas State Park called Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park in the town of Scott.
A Little History...
Back in the late 1840's, Gilbert Knapp owned a piece of land that had these large 'mounds' on his property. At first, he thought they were associated with the Toltec People of Mexico however, in the 1880's, his theory was proven wrong. They were identified as being built by North American Indians instead. More than a century ago, sixteen mounds stood with an earthen embankment wall. Today, eighteen mound locations have been identified. Unfortunately, over the past 150 years, farming activities destroyed nearly all of the mounds and embankment wall. It took until 1975 for the Arkansas State Government to step in to buy the land and consecrate it as protected.
There's no findings of who actually built them nor could the builder be identified as coming from any modern Native American tribes. Archeologists have dated these mounds from 650 AD to 1050 AD and named them the Plum Bayou Culture. Plum Bayou refers to the name of the local stream. For unknown reasons, the site was abandoned around 1050 AD.
You can learn more about the Plum Bayou Culture on the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. Today, only the locations of the largest mounds are known. The tallest mound in Arkansas stands at 49' and is located between two smaller ones. Our self-guided tour on the asphalt Knapp Trail (named after Gilbert Knapp, previous owner of the land) led us around to see the different mounds that were still present.
These mounds were located coincidentally right on the Arkansas River and more notably, on the Plum Bayou. The State Park did an amazing job of building a Plum Bayou Trail boardwalk that circled beyond the river bank of Cypress and Hemlocks. From one point of the boardwalk, you could see the lake view of one of the Toltec Mounds.
We studied the Griggs Canoe that was dug out of Cypress. Cypress, when submerged in water, is preserved to last many years as you can see.
Speaking of the Cypress Trees...
As you probably remember from Earth Science and Biology classes in school, Cypress trees grow in swamps and bayous and are rot resistant and live to be hundreds of years old. We learned that they can tower over 100' tall and can reach circumferences of 20'. They are the only 'tree with knees'; actual woody growths that sprout around the tree at a distance of several feet. This is from standing in swamp and very wet conditions.
We continued our three-quarter mile self-guided walking tour on the barrier-free Knapp Trail. There were signs stipulating not to climb or damage these precious historical mounds because in the past, some people disregarded the historical value and ran up and down the mounds.
Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park is one of Arkansas's two archeological sites cooperatively managed by Arkansas State Parks and the Arkansas Archeological Survey as both a state park and an archeological research station. The other is Parkin Archeological State Park at Parkin.
Each year Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park encourages visitors to experience the Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice, and Fall Equinox sunsets on Mound H the way the Plum Bayou culture did over 1,000 years ago.
So here's another "Roadside America" must-do if you're in this region of Arkansas. We never knew of these so-called 'mounds' and certainly were unaware of the amazing bayous that offer great habitat for the Cypress.