In the spring of 2017, while we were relaxing for a few days at U.S. Corps of Engineers Willow Beach Campground , we found and explored Toltec Mounds, a National Historic Landmark and Arkansas State Park not far from the campground. The C.O.E. campground is located at the erry Lock and Dam in Willow Beach, not far from Little Rock.
Our campsite was the last one at the end of the road overlooking the Arkansas River.
LOOK at that view! We were able to enjoy much needed downtime, campfires, and a couple happy hour sunsets. This Campground certainly took us by happy surprise.
As we always, we research to see what there is to do at any of our destinations. 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 and explored 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.
Due the lack of records, no one really knew who actually built them. 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 here —-> Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture
Today, only the largest mound locations exist and have been researched. The tallest mound in Arkansas stands at 49’ and was strategically built between two smaller ones. Our self-guided tour on the Knapp Trail named after Gilbert Knapp, previous owner of the land) that led us around to see the different mounds.
There’s also an embankment wall. As we learned, the mounds were literally hand-built by transporting by man-carried buckets of earth.
As you can see by looking at the mounds, they are terraced. I imagine that was the engineering part of the build to deter erosion and maintain stability.
These mounds are located coincidentally right on the Arkansas River 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 from one of the Toltec Mounds.
We also studied the Griggs Canoe that was dug out of Cypress.
Speaking of the Cypress Trees…
As you probably remember from Earth Science and Biology classes in school, Cypress grow in swamps and bayous, are rot resistant and when submerged (as in the case of the wood used to create the above canoe) are preserved for hundreds of years. We learned that they can tower over 100’ tall and reach circumferences of 20’ in diameter. Notably, they are the only ‘tree with knees’; actual woody growths that sprout around the tree bases at a distance of several feet. This is from standing in swamp and very wet conditions. Nature’s way providing stabilization so the trees don’t topple in the water is my guess.
Anyway, we continued our three quarter mile self-guided walking tour on the barrier-free Knapp Trail. It wasn’t hard to notice that there were signs telling visitors not to climb or damage these precious historical mounds; probably because in the past, some 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 and Fall Equinoxes, as well as Summer and Winter Solstices 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.
Important Stuff to Know if you plan to visit…
Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park
490 Toltec Mounds Road
Scott, AR 72142
GPS: 34.645878, -92.060408
Visitor Center and Exhibit Gallery/Self-Guided
Archeological Site Walking Tour: Free
Guided Archeological Site Walking Tour
Adult: $4 each
Child (6-12): $3 each
Guided Archeological Site Tour by Tram (by reservation)
Adult: $6 each
Child (6-12): $5 each
How to get there…
From Little Rock, take Exit #7 off I-440 and go 10 miles southeast on U.S. 165, then travel 1/4-mile southwest on Ark. 386.