Old Diary

Aztalan Day Trip


A sunny day while we’re twiddling our thumbs waiting to leave Milwaukee and it’s a near guarantee that we’re going to take a roadtrip!  Which is what we did on Friday.  Bundle ourselves into the car and head West.

There’s a small (read that as really SMALL – a mere 120 acres) state park West of Milwaukee and East of Madison called Aztalan State Park.  Located just East of Lake Mills it’s a

Aztalan SP“Aztalan State Park is a National Historic Landmark and contains one of Wisconsin’s most important archaeological sites. It showcases an ancient Middle-Mississippian village that thrived between A.D. 1000 and 1300. The people who settled Aztalan built large, flat-topped pyramidal mounds and a stockade around their village. Portions of the stockade and two mounds have been reconstructed in the park.”
— Wisconsin DNR

Aztalan platform moundAztalan has been part of Wisconsin history since the early days of exploration and settlement.  Whether the site dates to the forefathers of the Aztecs as was thought in the 1830’s or not it up for debate but it has an interesting past.

A young man named Timothy Johnson discovered the ruins of the ancient settlement in December 1835. In January 1836, N. F. Hyer conducted the first rough survey of the site, and published his discovery in the Milwaukie Advertiser of January 1837. According to Lapham:

“The name Aztalan was given to this place by Mr. Hyer, because, according to Humboldt, the Aztecs, or ancient inhabitants of Mexico, had a tradition that their ancestors came from a country at the north, which they called Aztalan; and the possibility that these may have been remains of their occupancy, suggested the idea of restoring the name. It is made up of two Mexican words, atl, water, and an, near; and the country was probably so named from its proximity to large bodies of water. Hence the natural inference that the country about these great lakes was the ancient residence of the Aztecs.”

Hyer wrote, “We are determined to preserve these ruins from being ruined.”

There’s a part of me that reads such ideas as this and wonders whether that is just another European Settler’s ego-centric attempt to make the world revolve around wherever they were, or whether some or all of that point of view has been upheld by research — we didn’t find indications at the site to tell us.  But it’s very much like how Americans of old viewed the world.

This is not a site you’ll go to and spend days and days.  Given the size of the park, the limited interpretation on-site, and a single trail to walk you can check the whole place out in a couple hours with time to spare.  But it’s a nice peaceful setting on the bank of the Crawfish River and it deserves a little attention from travelers.

Aztalan Fish Fry

offering cod, walleye, perch, bluegill and catfish fish fries — a person could go fish-happy there!

While you’re in the area the Aztalan Inn is nearby.  This country-corner bar/resto/watering hole serves some great sandwiches and they do an excellent job with a traditional Wisconsin Friday Fish Fry.  Well worth a stop.

While we were out we stopped at the Johnson Creek Outlet Mall — less to go shopping (we walked away with as many dollars in our pockets as when we arrived) and more just to get some exercise walking around the area and stores — with a little bit of people watching thrown in.  This is probably the last weekend we’ll venture out into shopping areas — from now on they’ll be busier than we need to put up with!

Considering that it was the 4th of December and the temperature was nudging 50º I thought we had a pretty nice day!  Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll talk with you tomorrow.

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5 thoughts on “Aztalan Day Trip

  1. Very interesting about the mounds, Peter! Grand Rapids, Michigan has Indian mounds also, but they were used for burial. When they built I-196, they went right through the middle of them. There are a few in the median, believe it or not….

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    • Don’t say that too loud — or you’ll have First Nation people protesting. (though it’s not something I would usually poke fun at).
      It’s interesting how large projects have changed. Not many years ago they just built wherever they wanted. Now there are so many studies that need doing before sinking the first shovel. It’s also interesting how much EARTH gets moved for these new projects. It seems as if all of Milwaukee’s roads are being rebuilt — including the Interstate — and I find it amazing that the interchanges are spreading out so much, the catchment basins are getting larger, there is more fill and more excavation going on and it’s easy to see why short sections of road are not costing millions and millions in money.
      I was struck on my several European trips that they must needs spend so much money maintaining the infrastructure they have and that they don’t seem to go gung-ho about as many new projects as we. I keep saying to myself that part of the reason we are in such a national fiscal mess is that we are so wasteful about what we build — and further that at some point we are going to have to start replacing infrastructure that we don’t have money for. I know, for example, in OR they have intentionally been delaying replacing bridges in the hope that there will be a major catastrophe that will require the rebuilding and they won’t have to repeat the process in short time. I actually heard DOT officials admit that. At some point our wastefulness will catch up with us and we’ll find ourselves mortgaged to the hilt to repair what our parents and grandparents built — and I’m not sure how well that will go over with liberals who want more human services and care less about structure. Will be curious to watch as I expect we’ll live through some of that.

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      • The road next to the freeway is called Indian Mounds Drive. I think I’m safe. 🙂

        That is WILD about Oregon! FEMA is ramping up their efforts out there, seeing the Cascadia Subduction Zone is long overdue for a slide into the ocean. The bridges will be the least of their worries when that happens!

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      • I’ll remember Indian Mounds Drive.

        FEMA needs to ramp up. A large percentage of their bridges are substandard, specially in the Portland area. The Subduction Zone issue is the real reason I scratched OR off our list of possible final stopping places. As much as I love the coast, if there’s ever a significant event there will be ZERO mobility. You only have the coastal road and it’s largely built on SAND foundations where it’s not actual blasted ROCK. So the road foundations will liquify and oops, there go your roads. The place we were domiciled for the Forest was the evacuation point for the 200 some campsites at the public campgrounds but with an electric pump for well water there would be no water, no toilets, nothing for as long as it took to re-power the coast. Not a good thought.

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