Friday, June 27, 2014

Ocmulgee National Monument

Ocmulgee National Monument Visitor Center
Today's hike is not far or difficult, and it is very interesting.  Starting at the Ocmulgee National Monument Visitor Center, the first hike was just less than a quarter mile down a hill, across a bridge, and back up into a field.  Tall trees surrounded the hill and I climbed to the bottom of another smaller hill with an entrance door on the east side.  This is a restored earthen lodge, and by ducking (a lot) you go through a low tunnel for about 20 feet to enter a log roofed underground room.  It reminded me of the Kivas I have seen out west. This lodge was originally built for discussions between a tribe's leaders with a fire pit in the center and a raised bird-shaped area (eagle) with another 47 seats around the outer wall.  3 seats are at the bird-shaped area, reserved for leaders.  On February and October 22nd, the sun rise shines through the tunnel directly on a spot above the bird-shaped area, marking the equinox exactly.  You have to expect this would begin a huge party, and you may be right.  This is in Macon, Georgia, and the clay floor of this lodge is dated to be built around the year 1000.  At some point the roof burned and the site became buried until found by archaeologists in the 1930's during the largest-ever dig site in America.
The trail to the earthen lodge
The bird shape where the chiefs sat.  The sun strikes this twice annually on the equinoxes
Lodge entrance from inside the mound
The Monument has 7 other mounds, one being the largest Mississippian mound constructed on the Macon Plateau in the Eastern United states.  Your hike to the Great Temple Mound is over one half mile from the visitor center and it passes through the ancient village site, under a railroad track and around a trading post site built in 1690 by English Traders to trade with the Creek Indians.  A boardwalk and stairs climb the east side of the mound to the flat top.  It is about 2 acres of space up here with awesome views all around the compass.  The city skyline of Macon peeks above the trees to the west, while the view south is clear of buildings and only has a couple radio towers poking through.  Mississippian Chiefs lived here in rectangular wooden structures and it is thought they held important religious ceremonies atop the tall mound.  A dragonfly wisps by and birdsong is very loud.  A Lesser Temple Mound is right next door and the Funeral Mound is close by to the northwest.  Below the stairs the land falls away to Walnut Creek and wetlands where the creek meets the Ocmulgee River.  The River and Opelofa trails run from the Great Temple Mound to the river and through the wetlands and woods.
The Great Temple Mound, largest earthen mound in the eastern US
The view south...
And northwest showing the Lesser Temple Mound and the Funeral Mound on the left
The Bartram (as in William) Trail runs east and south from the Visitor Center and loops back by the Southeast Mound and ends at the start.  Bartram came through here, meeting with the Creek Indians and wondering in his writings about the history behind the mound builders.
If you are into Civil War history, Macon was never taken by the Union Forces in a battle, even though it was the major manufacturer of guns and munitions and held many Union Prisoners of War.  The Ocmulgee National Monument also has Dunlap Mound which is near the Dunlap House that ran a slave-based plantation here during the Civil War.  The Union forces under General Stoneman (reporting to General Sherman) setup here and fired cannon over 2 miles into Macon from the Dunlap Plantation.  For some Macon irony, the local militia ended up capturing and imprisoning General Stoneman with the POW's he came to rescue.  If you visit Macon, make sure to see the Cannonball House, that General Stoneman's troops hit with a shell that did not explode while bombarding downtown.  There are also Civil War trenches and earthworks dug around the Monument, each with stories.
View east from the Great Temple Mound
The Heritage Trail is paved for runners and cyclists and it runs from the Park west to highway 80 and across the Ocmulgee River into town.  I like the way this ties the National Monument to the city and from the bicycle traffic in the park it seems the city has accepted it well.
The Visitor Center stores and displays over a quarter million artifacts gathered by the archaeologists mentioned above.  Lots of pottery, shell beads, Clovis and arrow points and copper from the past 17,000 years (that's not a mistake) of mostly constant occupation by Paleo-Indian, Archaic, Woodland, Mississippian, and the Historic Creek Indian cultures.  It also has the film "Mysteries of the Mounds" which focuses on the mound building time from 900 to 1100.
Funeral Mound signage
Park entrance is free and it is open 9am to 5pm every day except December 25th and January 1st.  There is a picnic area and camping is 8 miles west.  It is located at 1207 Emory Highway in Macon.  From Orlando, take the Turnpike north to I-75, and stay on I-75 to arrive at Macon, about 6 hours later.  Once in Macon, go east on I-16 to the first exit and follow highway 80 to turn right onto Emery Highway.  Turn right into the Monument.

There is much more to do in the Macon area, including historic house tours, Allman Brothers Band Big House tour, road trips to High Falls State Park, Lake Juliette and the town Juliette (Fried Green Tomatoes movie location), several plantations nearby and much Civil War history.

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