Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park – Scott, AR
In the spring of 2017, we need a little relaxation for a few days so we stayed at U.S. Corps of Engineers Willow Beach Campground . While there, we found and explored Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park. Registered as a National Historic Landmark, Toltec Mounds is located at the Terry Lock and Dam in Willow Beach, not far from Little Rock.
First, check out our view from our campsite! It was nice to enjoy campfires, and a couple five o’clock somewhere sunsets during the week. We took in the view of the river, wildlife and passing anglers with their boats. However, when the weekend locals rolled in, it got a bit lively and loud.
Researching the area…
As 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.
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 Toltec 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 A.D.
Today, only the largest mound locations exist. The tallest mound in Arkansas stands at 49’ and was strategically built between two smaller ones. Our self-guided tour on the Knapp Trail was named after Gilbert Knapp who was the previous owner of the land. The trail led us around to see the different mounds.
There’s also an embankment wall. The Toltec Mounds and embankment walls were hand-built by men carrying buckets of earth to the wall and mound locations.
As you can see, the mounds are terraced. I imagine that’s to deter erosion and maintain stability.
The Toltec Mounds are located right on the Arkansas River in the Plum Bayou. The State Park did an amazing job of building the Plum Bayou Trail boardwalk that circled beyond the river bank of Cypress and Hemlocks.
From the lake, we could see the backside of one of the Toltec Mounds.
We also studied the Griggs Canoe that was dug out of Cypress.
Speaking of the Cypress Trees…
Cypress trees grow in swamps and bayous. They 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. And, they can tower over 100’ tall reaching circumferences of 20’ in diameter.
Oh, and they are the only ‘tree with knees’; woody growths that sprout around the tree bases at a distance of several feet. It’s nature’s way providing stabilization so the trees don’t topple in the water.
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.
If you’d like to visit…
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.
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.
So here’s another “Roadside America” must-do if you’re in this region of Arkansas. We hope you enjoyed our sharing this magnificent out-of-the-way history of back roads Arkansas. check them out if you’re in the area!